13 February 2011

DVD Review: The Kids Are All Right



B-

"The Kids Are All Right" is a Best Picture nominee. This is a fact that can’t be changed. This is a fact which history can now only treat as truth. This is a fact which should mystify the majority of film fans worldwide. It’s not that “The Kids Are All Right” is a bad film, it’s actually moderately decent, what surprises is that a production only a few jumps above blatant mediocrity could cultivate such rampant acclaim. Leaving aside the generally excellent performances it boasts, “The Kids Are All Right” just doesn’t have the storytelling zing or substance to deserve Academy recognition; indeed the picture thinks it’s a whole lot more emotionally perceptive than it actually is. The word sitcom frequently jumps to mind.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a married couple with two kids, college bound Joni (Mia Wasikowska, the title star of Tim Burton’s underwhelming “Alice in Wonderland”) and the mildly troubled Laser (Josh Hutcherson). With Joni about to set sail for the realms of higher education, she and Laser decide to track down their biological father. Their search leads them to hunky hippy Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a guy who donated sperm back in the early nineties for a couple of extra bucks. Paul is delighted when the teens express an interest in contacting him, assuming a paternal attitude after just a few quick meetings. When Nic learns of this she blows a gasket, worried that the interloper might disrupt her position as head of the quirky family. Jules on the other hand views Paul as a curiously sexual presence, and before long she finds herself sleeping with him regularly. Complications ensue.

“The Kids Are All Right” does feature a bevy of terrific performances, particularly those handed in by Bening and Moore. The actresses respond to the task at hand brilliantly, cooking up two very unique characters involved in a loving yet complex relationship. Nic is clearly the more dominant presence; she’s the breadwinner and is consistently controlling. Jules on the other hand occupies a quieter and softer role, occasionally flirting with the concept of work, but with unfaltering devotion to her clan. Moore and Bening both convince effortlessly and as a result anchor the film in a vitally realistic fashion. Ruffalo is low-key but charming, the actor’s natural charisma besting his occasionally wooden delivery. Rounding out the central figures are Hutcherson and Wasikowska, the latter notably improving on her work in “Alice in Wonderland”. She’s still a little drippy from time to time, but there’s definitely more personality on display here. Hutcherson is as dependable as ever, continuing to prove himself as one of the stronger young thespians in Hollywood.

The film captures the day to day routines of a family rather sharply, but unfortunately the overarching narrative is no more ambitious or resonant than your average episode of “8 Simple Rules”. Director Lisa Cholodenko seems primarily interested in examining how Paul fractures the picture’s lesbian relationship, leaving the more fascinating children/biological father dynamic in the shallow end of the pool. “The Kids Are All Right” is at its most compelling when trying to excavate the pleasantly unsettling effect Paul has on Joni and Laser, the stuff between Nic and Jules despite the best efforts of Moore and Bening just isn’t as invigorating or fresh.

The film climaxes on a sour note, Cholodenko leaving one character out in the cold whilst the rest move forward with their lives. It’s a frighteningly unsatisfying moment on which to complete the film, I can only assume it was inserted to help overcome the generic family fallout stuff that inhabits the majority of the movie. I should stress that “The Kids Are All Right” is an appropriately watchable affair, but it completely lacks the lasting impact the best examples of its genre possess. Adding slightly to the project’s troubles is its hit and miss comedic style, Cholodenko opting for the easy gag too often. There are moments of tremendous wit (many of which are bettered thanks to Bening’s acidic touch), but some of the sight gags are shockingly predictable. Kids hearing their parents getting freaky with a porno tape? A somewhat perverted Mexican laborer? A teenage boy having his concerns misconstrued as burgeoning homosexuality? Surely we covered these beats when “Married with Children” was airing.

Ultimately I have to admit disappointment with “The Kids Are All Right”; it’s not a ruinous mess, but I would never associate it with greatness either. Maybe had the feature not been privy to such an ecstatic critical reception I would be a little warmer, but it was and so subsequently I’m not. Those who thirst for family dramas will probably take to the production, but otherwise it’s a just an adequate watch for a Sunday afternoon. Oscar quality this ain’t.

Universal sent out a screener copy so the disc’s audio and video capabilities haven’t been addressed. The DVD comes with a selection of bonus features, including a listenable commentary with Cholodenko. The director occasionally conveys her thoughts in a jumbled fashion, but she evidences an admirable amount of passion for “The Kids Are All Right” in the process. The featurettes included are considerably less impressive, all running for a perilously short time (about 5 minutes each), and failing to dissect the process of filmmaking or the movie itself with any real insight. A mixed disc then, although for fans of “The Kids Are All Right” the commentary is worth a look.

“The Kids Are All Right” is available to own and rent on DVD and Blu-Ray from March 21st 2011.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

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