Two children conceived by artificial insemination bring their father into their family life.
Year 2, Film #84
THE REVIEW: It’s getting to the end of this second year of the movie marathon and as you may have noticed, I’ve been watching a lot more films this past week than I have been for much of the year. While I wasn’t going to make my initial goal of hitting a total of 500 films by the end of June, I decided to try and go for a goal that was more within reach: 450 films. As I’ve learned this year (and which I will probably elaborate on in a reflection post), if I don’t have a schedule in place for what movies I will watch when, I tend to just not watch anything, or watch something just for fun and not want to write a review. That had been the case with today’s film The Kids Are All Right for quite a long time. This film had been on my “upcoming” list since January 2013 (almost one and a half years ago) but I never settled on a date to watch it. I finally picked it as my penultimate film for this second year and I have to say this film was worth the wait.
When I watched Jack Goes Boating yesterday, my biggest complaint was that the film lacked any real substance but acted like it had something major for the viewer. I said there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with a film that chooses to focus solely on character development and not have a source of conflict (until it pops up unexpectedly at the end, that is) but you shouldn’t pretend to be something you’re not. The Kid Are All Right shows how to make a film like that and do it well. Primarily the film is about showing a family of four — Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) who are the married mothers of two, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) — and what their life is like.
The reason this film succeeds isn’t that it has some built-in conflict with the kids wanting to find their sperm donor, biological father Paul (Mark Ruffalo), it’s that the small moments grab your attention. Nic and Jules are lively and their kids have a fire inside them. Everyone starts in a more interesting place and the journey they go through to reach the end offers something to care about. In Jack Goes Boating the parts were there, but the cohesion was missing. In The Kids Are All Right the whole package is sitting right in front of you and it makes focusing on character development and a quieter, less event-heavy film work well. Now there was also an added entertainment benefit of some exciting, actionable moments too. Teenage kids will always bring drama to the table as will wanting to find the biological father your mothers are less than thrilled about.
Another commonality I’ve been seeing with a few films this past week is including minor stories or plot points that don’t seem fully-fleshed. This happens in the wonder Short Term 12 where some of the kids are presented with backstories but then aren’t fleshed out as much as you hope for. While that wasn’t a big problem in that film, and was easily overshadowed by the rest of the movie, in The Kids Are All Right it’s a bit too prevalent to just simply ignore. This issue arises with both Joni’s friends Sasha (Zosia Mamet) and Jai (Kunal Sharma) and Laser’s friend Clay (Eddie Hassell). Both sets of friends serve a purpose in this film and ones that are fully realized. Clay is there to help Laser grow up and realize that sometimes friends can be bad influences and you have to learn to say no. Joni’s friends are there to help her grow up as well and try new things. I can’t complain that these sub-plots weren’t resolved because they were; both Joni and Laser reach concrete resolutions with their friends. My complaint is that the resolution doesn’t feel like a natural progression. Clay’s story was all front-loaded and his last moment was halfway through the film. Joni and her relationship with Jai serves a bookends to the film with nothing happening during the middle of the film. While each of their stories may have a beginning, middle, and end, the timing and lopsidedness of it make it feel incomplete.
The Kids Are All Right is a fantastic look at a family with a lot going on. A faltering marriage, a child preparing to go off to college, another teenager trying to come to terms with a father he’s never met, and the introduction of a sperm donor into the lives of an already established family. This is a small film with a big impact and one that provides many great, funny, and dramatic moments along the way. The Kid Are All Right is a film where you’ll laugh, you’ll be speechless, and you won’t be able to stop yourself from thinking about how the events taking place could somehow relate to your own life.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5