Upon our viewing of The Kids Are All Right, we had a great post-film conversation. Since the existence of this blog is to largely recreate our conversations about film and share them with others, we thought we would experiment with a new review format, in which we pose questions and answer them. Hopefully this works as well as we’d like.
Jill: What was the most surprising thing about the film to you?
Ryan: I was actually most unprepared for the tone. I really thought this was going to be a screwball family comedy, and this movie hits hard with real and difficult questions about family roles, identity, and relationships. That isn’t to say that the movie doesn’t have comedic moments–it does, and in spades–but I just expected something more in line with It’s Complicated then (500) Days of Summer, a movie that left me emotionally drained. It succeeds in this because the characters are all richly depicted right from the start.
What do you think the film was most successful at depicting?
Jill: I felt the film was most successful at depicting the relationships between family members, in particular the relationship between Julianne Moore’s character and Annette Benning’s character. The film never makes an issue of the fact that the parents are lesbians; it transcends that fact so the film can delve into deeper subject matter. The characters suffered the same problems and took joy in the same triumphs that families with heterosexual parents experience, and it was done with much grace and poise by the actors and by the director. The film shows the family dealing with issues other than persecution from the community. The family isn’t seen as an anomaly separate from mainstream culture, and that was refreshing.
What did you feel the main issue of the film was for the characters?
Ryan: I thought the main issue was that of identity. I felt all of the characters were trying to figure out their place one way or another. The children were going through the usual teenaged issues, Julianne Moore’s character was going through the feelings of a parent whose children are leaving the nest and debating a second career, and Mark Ruffalo’s character was experimenting with the idea of fatherhood. However, I thought the most in-depth exploration was what Annette Benning’s character was going through. Filling the role as “patriarch” of the family, her character had the most to lose from the appearance of Mark Ruffalo’s character. She was most conflicted about it, as he challenged her role in the family most. Herein was the central conflict of the film: the sudden challenge of what family means to these characters. I thought the film did a good job of exploring that, and showing the challenges presented to each family member. There was no good/bad dynamic here, just people trying to figure out how to live together.
I don’t think the film was perfect, however. What do you think were the film’s weaknesses? And any other final thoughts?
Jill: From a technical standpoint I thought the pacing lagged a little in the beginning, but once the main conflict of the film was established it picked up right to the conclusion. The only other “weakness” of the film for me was a lack of in depth exploration of the complexities of lesbian relationships both mentally and sexually. I mentioned earlier that the film’s biggest success is portraying this seemingly “unconventional” family as a family that deals with run-of-the-mill life obstacles like everyone else. But I also wish they talked more about why Moore’s character, feeling isolated, had an affair with a man (Mark Ruffalo) as opposed to another woman (I understand it fits the context of the story, but I’m suspending those boundaries for the moment). In the film, Benning’s character even asks, “So, what, are you straight now?” I think an audience unaccustomed to lesbian relationships might get the impression that those relationships are more fluid than they really are. In the future, I hope films depicting gay and lesbian couples are more comfortable talking about those relationship dynamics.
In general though, I was impressed with this film’s ability to take a family headed by two lesbians and not make it a comedic sketch for the sake of the audience’s comfort. It’s a great stepping stone to what I hope will be a new trend in cinema.