VIZ. ARTS
Weekly meditations from your humble messenger

Spermicides
(The Kids Are All Right, 8/30/10)
By Nicholas Nicastro

We all know that the creation of compelling movie titles is a lost art. I mean, does much thought need to go into calling a movie Saw, Suck, A Prophet, or An Education? But titling a poignant, off-beat drama like Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right is truly a head-scratcher. Did somebody think the classic concert film by the Who, The Kids Are Alright, has faded that completely from public consciousness? Or shall we expect more tender domestic dramas with titles like The Song Remains the Same, Gimme Shelter, or Stop Making Sense?
      OK, it's not hard to see why the filmmakers chose that title. The script has to do with the travails of Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), an almost-middle-aged same-sex couple trying to raise teenaged kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson). This is a hard-enough task made more difficult by the kids' curiosity about their biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Paul is a hip restaurateur/organic farmer—sustainable to a fault—who nonetheless represents a grave threat to Nic and a temptation to Jules (whose behavior puts the "bi" in lesbian). The ensuing complications are touchingly and plausibly spun out by Cholodenko and Stuart Brumberg. Without giving away too much, they also go to show that, conservative objections to the legitimacy of gay families aside, the kids are not only "all right", but doing better than their screwed-up parents.
      Kids isn't interested in promoting the politics of either side in the debate over same-sex marriage. Nic and Jules share neither a perfect relationship nor a fatally-flawed one, but one characterized by the same old problems of trust, control, and redemption. Indeed, both women are exquisitely portrayed here; though this country has nothing like the academic institutions and official recognition of actors elsewhere, both Bening and Moore are, with performances like these, becoming more like national treasures.
      Ruffalo's character, meanwhile, is an evolved male with many of the same foibles of his less-evolved brothers. His blood relation with the kids figures on his side, but even in an America obsessed with the defining influence of biology, that doesn't place him in the charmed circle. How Paul finally gets excluded from the family he helped create is a subtly powerful spectacle.
      One of the standard arguments against gay-lead families is that the influences of male and female parents are not just nice to have, but necessary. Indeed, the same argument is made by various groups, faith-based and otherwise, who encourage men not to abandon their pregnant mates, but live up to their parental responsibilities. What's most radical about The Kids Are All Right is its grasp of the hardest thing of all to accept: two women (or two men) certainly can handle the duties, but in a world dominated by powerful distractions, parents of any flavor—gay or straight, evangelical or secular—have far less influence on the final result than they might wish.

Contact Nicholas Nicastro at his Facebook author's page, Books by Nicholas Nicastro.

©2010 Nicholas Nicastro

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