Tuesday night Bill and I attended a SAG advance screening of The Kids are All Right. Written by Lisa Cholodenko (who also directed) and Stuart Blumberg, starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo, the film is a quiet little gem that may end up getting a lot of people riled. I suspect it will be a flash-point this summer in the ongoing debate over same-sex marriage. I'm all for it, but I hope the lovely film involved doesn't get lost completely in the discussions it may inspire. Like any good art, this movie never sacrifices complexity or nuance for the sake of an agenda.
Bening plays a high-powered physician (apparently both a surgeon and an ob/gyn), Moore (or 'your girl' as Bill calls her, knowing of my crush) plays her new-agey, somewhat lost wife. Each of the women gave birth to a child using the same anonymous sperm donor; now eighteen, daughter Joni is eligible to request contact with her biological father, and though she is initially reluctant, she eventually gives in to her younger brother's urging. Enter Ruffalo, a local restaurant owner and organic farmer, who proceeds to shake up the family, and expose fault lines in the mothers' marriage.
The film is solid and well-made; writing, directing, acting, even sound design all weave together effectively. At the Q&A following the screening, Cholodenko mentioned that during the movie's five year development, it had shifted over to become a full-fledged comedy. This was a good move; the humor, rooted in circumstances more than wise-cracks, is one of the film's strengths. In essence this is a mainstream Hollywood relationship comedy, and that is part of what may get people up in arms this summer. Bening and Moore's relationship will look familiar to anyone willing to examine it, filled as it is with bickering, frustration, anxieties, and easy affection. Cholodenko shows that the marriage is by no means sexless, the sex is just as fraught with routine, frustration and hurt feelings as is the case in any long-term relationship. The women's sex scene also slyly sidesteps being a "Girls Gone Wild" video. Anyone coming to the movie hoping for some hot lesbo-action will be in for a couple of surprises, both of which give nice texture to the women's characters and sexuality. To say much more would be to risk a spoiler, but for anyone who thinks this scene strains credulity, let me say I recognized several lesbian friends in it. Straight sex still ends up getting more screen time, but the motivation is clearly related to storytelling, not any suggestion of superiority.
In essence Kids is a funny, gentle study of flawed people trying to connect with one another. At its center is a marriage that, without ignoring the issues unique to same-sex couples, nor erasing the quirks created by these two quirky people, will nonetheless look like relationships most of us have seen and, dare I say, experienced.
The movie opens in select theatres next Friday, July 9th. With any luck, the star power and word-of-mouth will give this film the mainstream audience it deserves