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TBTS Double-shot Review: The Kids Are All Right and Love & Other Drugs

March 16, 2011

Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All RightThe Kids Are All Right

Bottom line is, marriage is hard. It’s really fucking hard. It’s just two people, slogging through the shit year after year. Getting older. Changing. It’s a fucking marathon, okay? Sometimes, you know…you’re together so long you just…you stop seeing the other person, you just see weird projections of your own junk. Instead of talking to each other, you go off the rails and act grubby and make stupid choices.

— “Jules”, The Kids Are All Right

There’s a lot of “fuck you”s in The Kids Are All Right. It seems like every five minutes one character says “fuck you” to another. It happens too often to simply be coincidental. While that phrase can carry a lot of hate, this movie is ultimately about people who really love each other.

The story is about a lesbian couple, Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening), and their two teenage children, 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson). (“Laser”? Seriously?) Jules is a free spirit, an open-minded hippie who asks her children if their friends are “helping them grow.” Nic, on the other hand, is a butch and uptight doctor who is driven and more than a little overbearing. Joni is technically Nic’s daughter and Laser is technically Jules’ son but both children have been raised by Jules and Nic and have the same biological father, an anonymous sperm bank donor. Upon turning 18, Joni (at Laser’s behest) contacts the sperm bank for information on their donor father.

Paul (Mark Ruffalo) is the donor. He’s the charming and rugged owner of a successful local-foods restaurant and co-op. He is unattached, has good-looking women throwing themselves at him, and seems to take everything in stride. Upon meeting Joni and Laser, his lack of a family is brought into sharp focus. This appears to be the motivation for everything he does throughout the rest of the movie. He starts spending inordinate amounts of time with both kids, trying to build a relationship he never even knew he wanted. At first, these relationships are welcome by everyone. Everyone but Nic, who sees her own control over her family being chipped away. Eventually it all goes wrong (dun-dun-DUN!)

I liked The Kids Are All Right, I really did, but the whole seems to be a bit less than the sum of its parts. I liked lots of little things, plot and character details, more than I liked the whole film. Performances by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are top notch (is there ANY role in which Moore does not excel?), but Ruffalo is, frankly, interchangeable with about a dozen other actors. Tertiary characters like Laser’s buddy, the unhinged Clay, and Joni’s oversexed friend Sasha were often more interesting; ironic, considering they’re admittedly rather one-dimensional. Joni’s own sexual exploration is given short shrift. The story seems to accelerate into a nervous “oh my god, we have to end this movie!” pace in the third act. At risk of spoiling the ending, Paul’s behavior gets a little erratic and he’s made into an all-too-convenient scapegoat for the story’s conflict before being unceremoniously tossed aside at the end. Laser’s motivations are scarcely explored as unequal time is given to Joni.

Story and characters aside, the music is well chosen, up to and including a rather funny Joni Mitchell sing-along between Paul and Nic. The incidental music is based, to great effect, around a folksy guitar theme. The director, Lisa Cholodenko, had previously directed Laurel Canyon (a film of similar themes and tone) and an episode each of Hung and Six Feet Under so she’s no stranger to tales of unconventional family units. The Kids Are All Right is good, but could have been better.

Love and Other Drugs

Anne Hathaway is really, really hot.

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