So, yeah, Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right is fine. The massive buzz left us suspicious: could the creator of Laurel Canyon possibly have churned out something worthy of so much hyperbole? Well, no, but in this dolorous summer of movie tedium (Inception . . . zzzzz), it stands out. Even if it has a distinctly uncinematic aesthetic (read: just past sitcom-level visual acuity), The Kids Are All Right features a nicely assembled screenplay that generously provides room for all its major characters to shine and be shitty by turns, which Cholodenko’s cast of skilled performers clearly relishes. She even manages the reclamation of Annette Bening from the pastures of hysterical overacting. As anyone who’s seen American Beauty or In Dreams can attest, subtlety isn’t her strong suit, but Cholodenko ably compresses the actress’s usually explosive tics into a believably high-strung career woman. In fact, perhaps what’s best about The Kids Are All Right is that everyone in it feels like a real person. Contrast that with the romantic comedy of Nancy Meyers: The Kids Are All Right isn’t far from It’s Complicated in intended audience effect (warm, knowing laughs) and interest in the many permutations of family, but one film is concerned with people, the other, movie stars acting out gilded fantasies.
It’s also worth praising Kids for pushing itself post- everything. Our heroines are a lesbian couple with two kids. Their white sperm donor is seen early in the film engaging in a little bedroom roughhousing with the statuesque black hostess of his farm-to-table restaurant. Their shy daughter sneaks a first kiss from her South Asian high school crush. And one of our lesbian heroines finds sexual release in the arms of the aforementioned donor. Everyone gets theirs, and often across racial and sexual boundaries. So what’s the with the summary dispatching of Luis the gardener (Joaquín Garrido) by wannabe landscaper Jules (Julianne Moore)? His only crimes: a permanent smirk and catching his boss in the act of sleeping with her client. In a time when unemployment rates are skyrocketing, and waves of anti-immigrant fervor are sweeping the nation, Cholodenko sensitively plays this for….laughs? To add insult to injury, we never see Luis again, but Jules twice remarks she had to fire the man due to a….drug problem. Ha ha?
Would that there was a slightly elongated The Kids Are All Right out there with a scene that affords Luis some measure of comeuppance or dignity. Instead, unlike every other character in the film, he’s left as merely the butt of a cruel joke. This casual disregard is the film’s most tastelessly Meyers-esque twist.