Opinion: 'The Kids are All Right?' Not Really; Just So-So
Imagine if Warner Bros. had simply cast Katharine Hepburn or Barbara Stanwyck as Ingrid Bergman's lover instead of Humphrey Bogart. Now that would have sizzled.
Apparently, all you have to do to make a great movie is toss in a couple of lesbians.
That explains all the Oscar buzz surrounding "The Kids are All Right," the new movie that follows Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a same-sex couple grappling with teenage children, marital fidelity, midlife crises and more.
You know, just like heterosexual couples. But they're not heterosexual. They're a couple of women. Get it? That's what makes it so darn interesting, even revolutionary.
Psst, not really.
I wish I had heard all this Oscar buzz before I went to see the movie at a special screening before its national release. The buzzing sound might have helped me stay awake.
The movie is a standard Hollywood "dramedy." You know the type. It's half soap opera, half comedy. You laugh one minute. You cry the next. The writer practically stands to the side of the screen and holds up signs telling you what to feel.
Take away the lesbian element, and this movie has all the artistic merit of a very special episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond."
The central conflict is that Bening and Moore's characters had two children with the help of an anonymous sperm donor. Now teenagers, daughter Joni and son Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) meet the donor, an amiable doofus played by Mark Ruffalo.
All sorts of complications ensue. Laugh. Laugh. Cry. Cry.
Spoiler alert: Everyone grows a little in the process. All together now (with feeling): "Aaaawwww!"
As sperm donor movies go, 1993's "Made in America" with Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson was a lot funnier and far less preachy. The main sermon in "The Kids are All Right" is that lesbians are just like the rest of us.
The movie goes out of its way to portray same-sex parents and their children as normal, natural and even healthy human beings. Most people have hopefully figured that out by now. Sure, there is a dwindling legion of slack-jawed troglodytes clinging to their moldy prejudices. But they're not going to see this movie anyway.
And, if they do, it will only be the few who actually think they should see a movie before condemning it. They'll be too busy popping blood vessels over same-sex parenting to notice the deadly dull and predictable script.
Ruffalo's character is a particularly excruciating cliché -- the arrested adolescent stud who is harmless enough but is ultimately a selfish clod. He is practically every sperm donor from every movie. For a movie that set out to blast some stereotypes, director Lisa Cholodenko does a good job of perpetuating others.
Even Bening and Moore's characters rolled off a Hollywood assembly line. One is an effete, wine-sipping intellectual. The other is a down-to-earth, rough-and-tumble, working class kind of gal. Wow. Character development.
Watch the movie and pretend -- just pretend -- it is about a heterosexual couple. Say they could not conceive children because, oh I don't know, the wife was once attacked by a rogue rhino. (We'll go with the Roald Dahl approach.) Mentally cast Nicolas Cage instead of Bening.
Then decide whether this is anything but a weak attempt to integrate same-sex couples into boiler plate Hollywood relationship movies.
Oscar contender? You've got to be kidding. By that standard, 1989's "Dad" starring Jack Lemmon and (once again) Ted Danson deserved to win Best Picture. Remember that movie? Didn't think so.
Same-sex parents and their children should not be considered freaks. They should be mainstream. And, as such, movies about them shouldn't be held to lower standards.
Related: Kids From Gay or Straight Parents Fare the Same in Life
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.