Friday, November 5, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

It's early yet to be discussing the worst movies of 2010, but I have some pretty good ideas about the most overrated ones. Amongst the masses it's a close call between Alice in Wonderland and Iron Man 2, the former of which was grating and the latter tedious, neither of which deserved the shitloads of money they made. On the internet it's clearly The Expendables, a dull and stupid action movie I probably overrated even at two stars that millions of internet nerds are still inexplicably pretending was some kind of masterwork. And amongst the critics? That's too easy: The Kids Are All Right, an insubstantial, cutesy little sitcom that somehow achieved a mind-blowing 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. Either I saw a different movie than the rest of these guys or there was some kind of memo sent out telling all critics to like it, because I can't make any sense of its reception otherwise.

Basically, there are two wives of about twenty years; a high-strung and controlling doctor named Nic, played by Annette Bening, and the more easygoing Jules, played by Julianne Moore. They each gave birth to a kid via the same anonymous sperm donor, and their now-grown children Joni and Laser (yes, the fucking kid's name is Laser; it's that kind of movie) decide to look up and meet their biological father before Joni leaves for college. He winds up being a well-meaning, vaguely hippie-ish restaurant owner named Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo. Joni and Laser then largely vanish from the narrative and we instead focus on the way that the arrival of Paul throws Nic and Jules' marriage into turmoil. I won't say exactly how, but if you fast-forward to about a minute and a half into the incredibly spoiler-happy trailer it goes ahead and shows you.

I'll agree with the critics on certain counts, namely that every actor in The Kids Are All Right delivers a fine performance (with the exception of the kids playing Joni's slutty best friend and guy friend she's secretly in love with in a subplot that would barely pass muster on a CW teen drama). The three adult stars all deserve credit for naturalistic and occasionally funny work, particularly Bening and Moore for their very convincing portrayal of a married couple who love each other but are starting to feel the minor exhaustion of being with one person for decades. It's a rare cinematic family that actually feels like a family, with a deep personal history.

But here's the rub: I hated, hated, hated Nic, Jules, and Paul. I mean, all three of them are just awful human beings who I wouldn't want to so much as be in a room with if they were real; Jules and Paul for plot-related reasons that you can see in the spoilerific trailer linked above if you want and Nic for being a deeply unpleasant, passive-aggressive shithead who spends the entire movie shrieking angrily and insulting people and storming off all the time. Yes, the movie was occasionally funny and it was occasionally cute and it presented a believable marriage, but I truly despised the three main characters. I didn't care if they achieved happiness. I didn't want them to achieve happiness. They didn't deserve it.

It's not that I can't enjoy a film with loathsome protagonists. See the brilliant American Psycho or The Rules of Attraction for examples of films that use their cruel, awful characters as part of superb satire. But The Kids Are All Right is incredibly earnest and wants us to feel for these shitty people, deep in our hearts (or at least for Nic and Jules, seeing as the ending throws Paul under the bus in a ridiculously unsatisfying way). And I so don't. Not even a little bit. Did I mention that Jules fires the gardner who works for her for glancing at her suspiciously in a scene that I guess was supposed to be funny? Absolutely hilarious! No, just kidding, I actually wanted her to die.

I suspect that much of this film's critical acclaim stems from its blasé, matter-of-fact presentation a lesbian marriage with kids and a house and the whole nine. And I sympathize with that. The illegality of gay marriage is obviously something that the United States will look back upon with embarrassment fifty years from now, but in the meantime I'm not gonna pretend that simply depicting it makes a good film. A progressive one, sure, but not a good one, and when gay marriage is legal across the country The Kids Are All Right is going to rapidly shrivel up in the public eye into the sitcommy nothing is really is. (By the way, I don't refer to the impending legalization of gay marriage as a leftist rallying cry but as a simple, bland statement of fact. Soccer moms who wail about how they can't bear the thought of their kids growing up in a world with gay marriage really have no choice but to kill their kids, because it's gonna happen in next couple decades.)

So I can't really recommend this movie. If you wanna laugh or feel touched just shoot me an email and I'll name you dozens of films and TV shows preferable to this one from the last few years alone. But as a funny parting observation, this movie, which critics loved and I didn't, was co-written by Stuart Blumberg, co-writer of the 2004 teen sex comedy The Girl Next Door, which I loved and critics didn't. Guess I'm just backwards as hell, man.

2 Stars out of 5

1 comment:

Wes said...

Thank you!!! Finally someone out there who sees the light! I just recently saw this movie because of its acclaim, and although I like Ruffalo, Moore, and Bening, I couldn't stand the people they were playing. I was rather shocked that Ruffalo's character was disposed like that. I also couldn't understand how the kids were the focus of the film at the start, and then both become sullen ciphers midway.

I guess you can fool some people all of the time, as long as it has anything to do with "timely" topics like lesbianism.