With my INSANE schedule I often find it hard to get myself to the movies, even though I LOVE going to movies. It's fun in a different way than watching live drama. It's dark and cool and the mood is absolutely more relaxed. Also, if there are three people in theatre (like there were on this particular trip) the actors will never know! Recently, on a day off from work, I decided to treat myself to a flick at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. I decided on The Kids Are All Right, an indie film starring Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, and Mark Ruffalo. I left the theatre thinking to myself, "That was alright but I probably should have just gone and seen Inception and waited until this came out on DVD."
The plot line was interesting -- two women in a lesbian couple each get impregnated by the same sperm donor's DNA. The kids grow up and decide to try and find their "father," which is all well and good until the mothers find out and then everyone's relationships start to enter into new levels. While this was a great way to show the changing family dynamic in America, I think a lot of other media sources are doing it better. Modern Family, for instance, uses a mocumentary style to delve into the sometimes taboo topic of the changing face of America's family much more effectively. There are many reason why/how, but mostly, I BELIEVE that the people in this TV Show are family and I want the varying family members to succeed. Which brings me to my biggest problem with the film...
...the acting. I respect both Bening and Moore as actresses. That being said, they simply had NO CHEMISTRY. And I'm not even talking about as lesbians, but as two actresses side-by-side, I didn't feel/see any spark between them and that really bothered me. There's a line in the film where the couple is explaining why they watch male-male porn instead of female-female porn and their reason is that directors cast two straight women to play lesbians and they just don't believe the attraction between them. I found this to be the case with this film. Interestingly enough, I've seen both actresses play similar roles to perfection. Moore pulls off "the whole lesbian thing" with heartbreaking and ease in The Hours and Bening plays a fabulous jilted, miserable wife in American Beauty but the energy from those performance never made it into this movie and I can't quite figure out why.
The script MIGHT have helped these actresses inch apart as it left a lot of loose ends that I wanted to see tied up absolutely untouched. Mia Wasikowska (try to say that ten times fast) and Josh Hutcherson, who play the kids, give simple, beautiful performances and I only wish that some of the minor story lines that involved them were carried out further.
The shining moment for this film was absolutely the climax scene (pun intended for those of you who have seen it -- no spoilers here!) which involves a dinner scene featuring all five main characters. While Bening and Moore seemed somewhat mismatched, the combination of these two with Ruffalo, Wasikowska, and Hutcherson made for a beautiful bit of ensemble acting. Ruffalo, who gave a truthful performance as a lackluster human being, seemed to have connections with each family member in a different, sometimes creepy way and it manifested itself gorgeously in this scene. While I don't think that was the performance of his career, he definitely did a respectable job in this film. (I'm not saying that just because we've met before.)
The bottom line is, I'm glad films like this are being made, but I'm just not quite sure that all of the elements added up in this one. I didn't hate it, but I left the theatre feeling like something was missing from my viewing experience. The plot focussed enormously on the journey of a family with two moms and how this family copes with its "American family image." HOWEVER, there were so many more interesting plot lines in the film that didn't get carried out that would have made the characters fuller and this movie all-around better. (For instance, Bening's character's mood swings due to alcoholism were FASCINATING to watch. However, they were too abruptly inserted into the ripples of the political statements the film was making to help the movie along.) The movie showed the quartet as "a normal family with two parents and two kids" but I think it could have accomplished its goal better by letting the lesbianism be less front and center. But I guess when the writer and the director is part of the creative team behind The L-Word, this movie was created with an agenda in mind. I don't mind agenda, unless it gets in the way of the creative process, as it did in this film. I'd recommend this film if you're interested in the plot topic, but pay $1 at Red Box in four months, it doesn't need to been seen on the big screen.
Erika and friends Judah and Anthony (L to R) with Mark Ruffalo at Brandeis University, Fall 2008 after the premier of his Boston-based film, What Doesn't Kill You.