Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Location, Location, Location



Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right is one of those beautiful middlebrow adult movies that totally makes you wish you were in the world being depicted: an unpretentious fancy restaurant ran by a relaxed, red-wine-swilling and fresh-from-the-garden-heirloom-tomato-eating stud/chef, a California balcony overlooking long stretches of sunlit cacti and palm trees, a large beige master bedroom with family pictures on wood plank shelves and voluptuous pillows the size of one-bedroom-apartments. The movie drips with its own sense of comfort and authority, much like the lush Baby-Boomer romantic comedies of Nancy Meyers (It's Complicated, Something's Gotta Give). There's a spell that gets cast from the alignment of set-design and intention. The cast arrives and the movie's inanimate objects and human subjects combine into a bourgeoisie dreamscape where touching domestic dramas just work themselves out. And by the end everyone can feel both enlightened and self-satisfied.

Cholodenko's purpose though is a little different than Meyers'. She populates those dreamy/familiar sets with two central characters often consigned to sidekick status: lesbians. And even more rare: two happily married lesbians with two beautiful children who seem to have it all. There's always a wind-up mechanism on this kind of toy though. The perfection on display has a slight chip here and there, as in Annette Bening's Nic drinking a little too much of the aforementioned red wine and nagging just a little bit too much about her daughter Joni not writing thank-you cards, and Julianne Moore's Jules seeming a little too starry-eyed and fidgety and flighty. Not to mention the motorcycle-riding, sexy-beyond-humanly-possible sperm-donor dad getting a telephone call from Nic and Jules kids five minutes into the whole she-bang.

No matter, that perfection is built into the class-structure decor, and we're not worried about gay-bashing or ugly placards outside courtrooms telling us we're going to hell. We are invested in the atmosphere, the verisimilitude, what comes next. This is the triumph of Cholondenko's creation, as well the dividends of great acting, the pleasures you get from seeing beautiful actors act less than beautiful but still more than beautiful than beautiful is supposed to be. The lesbianism and the sperm-donor shenanigans fade into mundanity as the movie's real pulse takes over. This is a middle-of-the-road chick flick heightened by a smidgen of kink and yet also deepened because of what's truly at stake: the kids.

Josh Henderson's Laser and Mia Wasikowska's Joni are two of the most incredibly performed adolescents ever put on film. They both offer us up true portraits of normalcy, and yet they never condescend or bend into victimhood. They have two moms and a sperm-donor, and all the action and melodrama inherent in that set-up are played out in fast motion while Laser and Joni seem to exist in a slow-motion universe of going to college and pool parties and skateboarding and shooting hoops. Commonplace decency never looked so gorgeous and real: Joni and Laser are the future, God bless them, and they were created by two slightly anxious, self-involved but diligent moms, as well as a creative, sweet boy-man. That nexus gives the movie its sweetness, not its salaciousness. The fact that Laser and Joni are who they are allows the movie to be more than the sum of its parts.

The Kids Are All Right is a movie that wants us all to get over the simplifications of old-fashionned structures and anachronistic ideas while simultaneously worshipping and supporting these structures and ideas: the upper-middle-class family dramady consumes the hard-edged lesbian chic of High Art, the heroin-shooting-artists/lesbians indie movie that put Cholodenko on the map. The Kids Are All Right does not have time for heroin or art or chic, barely enough time for lesbian sex. What it does have is an big-heartedness that never veers that close to sentimentality. It gives you what want: location, location, location. And a sweet goodbye scene at the end, kind of like an updated Norman Rockwell: a blonde fragile gorgeous eighteen-year-old girl putting the sheets on the twin bed in her new dorm room, getting scared because she is finally alone, and walking outside to make sure her moms and her brother have not left yet.

So why is this on 2 + 2 = 5? Because this flick is about a focus on the family that transcends the meanness and singlemindedness inherent in "focusing on the family." Because by juxtaposing decency with what many small-minded people see as "indecency" this movie allows a new way of seeing what's right in front of your face. Guess what? If you're a good person, you're a good person. Period.