It’s impossible to criticize a move like The Kids Are All Right without seeming a stodgy lezbophobe and hater of gay marriage, so let me preface my remarks by saying that I have no problem with lesbians – far from it – and I am adamantly indifferent on the subject of same-sex marriage.
No, what I have a problem with is these lesbians, played by the straight Annette Bening and the straight Julianne Moore, and this same-sex marriage, which is presented as a hip, modern relationship, but one so relentlessly ordinary that you feel like you’re watching Wanda and June Cleaver.
That is, until they pull out the DVD of two men having sex, which they keep in a bedside drawer to revive marital passion as needed. This was the first unbelievable moment in a movie filled with them, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Do lesbians normally watch a lot of male gay porn? I’ve not kept abreast of the latest lesbian trends, but if I were a contestant on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? my gut answer would be no. (EDIT: I’m wrong about this. Apparently, it really is a thing.) This startling scene occurs within the first 15 minutes of the film, so right away we’re getting off on the wrong foot.
Other questions arise: Would a lesbian couple both choose to be inseminated with the same donated sperm, three years apart? Is it likely that the donor of said sperm would be a handsome, utterly cool and successful restaurateur living nearby? Would the children thus conceived be able to easily identify the donor 18 years later? Would the donor instantly bond with these children? Would one of the lesbians suddenly fall in love and into bed with the restaurateur? And finally, why the hell is Julianne Moore performing nude sex scenes at this stage in her career?
Questions aside, I will admit that the script has its amusing moments, eliciting an occasional smile if not any real laughs. That doesn’t include the lame and contrived bit about how Nic and Jules met – it seems Jules couldn’t move her tongue, and Nic, the doctor, was able to quickly cure the condition. Get it? Yuk, yuk. It also doesn’t include the moment where Jules finds her son and his friend fast-forwarding through the gay-sex DVD and leaps to the erroneous conclusion that he’s gay. Boy: Is that ironic or what? What a crazy, I Love Lucy kind of mixup. Aarrgh.
If there’s another good point about this film, it’s Annette Bening, who brings a tense dignity and nuance to the role of Nic, the alpha partner in the relationship. The scene where she discovers she’s being cheated on is masterfully done, and I suppose people in Hollywood might be talking it about come Oscar time.
On the whole, though, I do not get the gushing reviews that have propelled The Kids Are All Right to about 94 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes film site. It’s just another self-consciously quirky indie film that preaches to the choir on a subject dear to Hollywood’s heart: this time, California’s Proposition 8, otherwise known as the Protection of Marriage Act. Fine. We get it. Films have a right to be political, but they also have a responsibility to be authentic. The failing of Kids is that no single part of it rings true.