NIC AND JULES HAD THE PERFECT FAMILY, UNTIL THEY MET THE MAN WHO MADE IT ALL POSSIBLE.
It took forever, but then it all seemed to change in a few months. Suddenly, Americans adopted a more positive attitude toward the idea of rainbow families. President Barack Obama coming out in favor of gay marriage in late 2012 helped a lot, although it was hardly a bold stance since the tide had in fact been turning for quite some time. Hollywood had done its share; gay parenting was portrayed as a positive and normal thing on shows like Modern Family, and a little film coming out of Sundance called The Kids Are All Right became a hit.
Things are changing for the Allgood family in California. Nic and Jules (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore) have been married for a long time and raised two children, using the same sperm donor. Laser (Josh Hutcherson), 16, and Joni (Mia Wasikowska), 18, are curious about the man who made their lives possible and manage to find out who he is. Paul Hatfield (Mark Ruffalo) is in his 40s and owns an organic foods restaurant but has yet to find a woman who wants to share his bohemian lifestyle. He agrees to meet the Allgood kids and the three of them hit it off.
When Nic and Jules find out what their kids have been up to, they’re alarmed but their first meeting with Paul isn’t a disaster. When he tells them about his back garden, Jules offers to landscape it for him as part of a business startup; Nic is wary, but Paul agrees. As he becomes a more common presence in everybody’s lives, there are upheavals.
It may seem like a tired thing to say, but it is undeniably refreshing to see a movie about gay parents where it’s not about the challenges of being same-sex moms or even homosexuality itself. It’s not a drama about facing prejudice and inequality. Instead, it’s a funny, emotional and relevant story about a couple that’s been together for a long time and are about to face a new chapter in their lives as the kids soon will be out of the nest. Simply put, it’s universal.
In fact, part of the story is so down-to-earth that it runs the risk of being a little too mundane. After all, there have been a lot of stories about children meeting their sperm-donor dad, and middle-aged couples reassessing their lives together after twenty years. Still, director Lisa Cholodenko (who’s also gay) and her co-writer Stuart Blumberg (who’s straight) make all the difference, providing truth and insight to both the central lesbian couple and the straight guy who enters their life. And of course, this is done with a sense of humor and elegance. By the time the drama is unwinding and the time comes to get Joni on her way to college, we’ve invested a lot of feelings in these characters and are ready for the emotional payoff. Bening and Moore are wonderful, especially the former who expertly balances the negative and positive aspects of Jules.
They never come across as caricatures (which might be more of a problem in Modern Family), and their differing attitudes toward life and parenting are a compelling part of the film. But Ruffalo, Hutcherson and Wasikowska also deserve kudos; none of them fall in the shadow, but remain important throughout.
It’s funny how also conservative Hollywood can be on this issue. As in the case of Behind the Candelabra (2013), there were serious concerns from the studio how this film was going to make money. In both cases, audiences have proven the studios wrong. Still, the production delay wasn’t all negative for the director. In the meantime, she became a mother via a sperm donor, no doubt an experience that helped inform the film immeasurably.
The Kids Are All Right 2010-U.S. 106 min. Color. Produced by Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Celine Rattray, Daniela Taplin Lundberg. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Screenplay: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg. Cast: Annette Bening (Nicole “Nic” Allgood), Julianne Moore (Jules Allgood), Mark Ruffalo (Paul Hatfield), Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta.
Trivia: Robin Wright and Ewan McGregor were allegedly considered for roles.
Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Actress (Bening).
Last word: “It was super-painful to get it made. Even after Annette and Julianne were attached, when it came down to people wanting to write a cheque… well, there were a lot of conversations, but they just never committed. […] I wanted to make a film that was not sentimental, sanctimonious or apologetic; so did Annette and Julianne. So that’s what we did. It is a political film, in the sense that it’s saying: this marriage is as messy and flawed and complicated as any other marriage. I couldn’t have done that anywhere other than in the independent sector.” (Cholodenko, The Guardian)