film comment: little great things from The Kids Are All Right

As an avid visitor to various websites dedicated to film, it can be easy for me to forget that most folks haven’t heard of some of the films I like to talk about.  And with Ezra gone, I’m running out of local movie geeks with taste I can relate with.  This is all to say that instead of assuming you’ve seen this brilliant film that you’ve OBVIOUSLY heard about, I’m going to give a quick little synopsis before talking about what I liked about it. Hope that helps.
The Kids Are All Right is the story of a family with two mothers (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), whose teenage kids suddenly make contact with the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo).  He becomes a part of their life, and things go kinda haywire.  That’s about all there needs to be known about this film before seeing it.  All of its great moments happen in little ways that plot alone won’t offer.

I consider this to be an exceptionally effective political film, because it disarms you so quickly, and allows you to relate to these characters in a way that never feels like politic.  I’m not even sure if director Lisa Cholodenko would call this a political film.  But I do, in the most appreciative way.  And to be more specific about why this film worked so well for me, I’m gonna highlight various moments in the film that may or may not be spoiler-ific. But I don’t really think this is a movie with spoilers; you can walk in knowing what happens but marvel at how. So…

1) The title.  The last scene is what makes the title really sing for me.  That’s when I absolutely get it.  For those that fear gay marriage is a threat to family, this film shows you an example of the opposite. Such a warm, unsentimental moment.  See it and you’ll know what I mean.

2) Subtlety.  This is highlighted in a couple of different scenes, so I’ll start with…

a. My Partner Has a Drinking Problem.

This is a dynamic in the mothers’ relationship that isn’t hammered, but remains there, and one well placed reminder did the job: In a restaurant we see Bening’s character take a substantial swallow of wine, while Moore’s character raises a glass of water.  And Moore’s demeanor was that of someone who has learned when to say something and when to just ride it out.  Very lived in moment for me.

b. By The Way, I’m a Boy.

Another unspoken challenge is that of the son, and his desire for a male figure in his life.  He’s the only guy in the house, and he’s hungry for his developing masculinity to have a model to relate to.  This mostly manifests in frustration and outbursts, and its clear the mothers are struggling with how to handle this new version of their son.  But then there’s a scene where the son is hanging out with his jackass friend, and they get into an argument, nearly coming to blows.  The friend punches him, but he doesn’t hit back.  He spits at his feet and walks away. And the cool thing is that it didn’t even seem to occur to him that he should hit back.  It’s obvious: he wasn’t raised that way.

c. Did You See That?

This was probably the most satisfying piece of writing in this film.  At one point, early in the film, Bening’s character says “Goodnight, chicken,” and Moore’s character says “Goodnight pony,” and I was thinking, “No, those names should be reversed.  Bening’s the chicken and Moore’s the pony.”  And then, near the end of the film, Moore’s character has a monologue about her experience with marriage, and there’s a point when she says that she and her partner started projecting themselves onto each other.  And I remembered the chicken/pony moment and said “OH, I GET IT!”  Brilliant and subtle writing, my friends.  That’s how it’s done.

So those are the main qualities I remember from this film that I saw about 2 months ago.  These are the reasons that this film overcame “average” potential and became excellent.  And so far, it’s my favorite of the year.

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