Part-way through The Kids Are All Right, Lisa Cholodenko’s new film about two lesbians, their son and daughter, and the man from whose sperm they were artificially created, their son asks them why they watch “gay-man porn,” as opposed to “just watching girls do it.” Their response: it’s partly because they like to see the externalisation of sexuality/sexual organs, but also because “usually, in those [girl-on-girl] movies, they hire two straight women to pretend—and the inauthenticity is just unbearable…”
It’s either ironic, or sad, then, that Annette Bening and Julianne Moore—the latter one of the best actresses of her generation—have zero chemistry as the two moms in this silly little would-be social commentary.
Their kids, Joni—named after Joni Mitchell and played by Mia Wasikowska (Cary Fukunaga’s ridiculous-looking forthcoming adaptation of Jane Eyre)—and ‘Laser,’ played by some kid called Josh Hutcherson, have more emotionally touching moments with Mark Ruffalo, their sperm donor, than any other coupling in the film—especially the dead-on-arrival passion between the kids’ “momses.”
The sex scenes, which are far too numerous, don’t add anything to the film beyond satisfying the cravings of the minute portion of the audience who came to see Julianne Moore rustling around under a blanket between Annette Bening’s legs. Ruffalo brings his usual A-game combination of suave self-indulgence and scruffy good looks, and Wasikowska is at least more convincing than, say, one of the Gossip Girls would have been.
As well as having directed episodes of Hung, The L Word and Six Feet Under, Cholodenko was responsible for 2002’s truly dreadful Laurel Canyon, in which Frances McDormand is completely wasted in the role of a stoner-hippie-cum-record-producer, and Cavedweller, a film exactly no one has ever heard of.
There’s nothing special about the way Cholodenko makes films: most of the time it feels like you’re watching a sitcom—you’re just waiting for canned laughter or audience sympathy cues to start interjecting after punch lines and tender moments of ‘real talk.’ The cinematography is all yawn-inducing sun-drenched dusty pastels, and there’s a wistful score to match, all would-be-Nancy-Wilson fingerpicking topped occasionally with Knopfleresque riffs.
For a film about a nuclear-free 21st-century family in flux, Cholodenko could have—nay, should have, almost by some sort of moral imperative—made better casting choices than Charlie from A Single Man and the mother from American Beauty.
p.s. Beyond an absurd paranoia about a potential lawsuit from the remaining (i.e. non-dead) members of The Who, Cholodenko seems unable to explain why she oafishly rendered the title grammatically incorrect. Ben Zimmer:
Cholodenko seems to be playing on the perceived difference between alright and all right when she says that “we liked the double entendre of it.” What additional meaning does all right provide that would have been absent from alright? I don’t think it’s that “all the kids are right” in the film.
After all, there are only two kids in question: the children of a lesbian couple who go in search of their biological father. Rather, as Cholodenko told the San Francisco Bay Guardian, “it’s sort of an ironic title, in the sense that the kids are kind of doing better than the moms.”
She also suggests that it’s a form of social commentary responding to those who worry about gay people raising “psychologically healthy children”: “The kids are fine. Don’t worry about them. They’re just right.”
The Kids are All Right opens on Boxing Day.