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Many in the industry as well as movie enthusiasts may have been surprised to see “The Kids Are Alright,” Lisa Cholodenko’s latest film, get nominated for Best Picture for an Oscar. Now that The Academy has allowed unlimited Best Picture nominations, films that may not be the obvious choice, but are still recognized for their excellence, have been finding their way into this category. And it’s a promotional boost for the film, whose marketing was dubious in the first place. As with “I Love You Philip Morris”, the marketing and distribution cats play it very cautious when it comes to gay films. The trailers show the “We’re gay!” parts in the most commercial way possible, punching them out as if being gay is a big hilarious twist. But most people who would be interested in seeing the film are way beyond caring that “Whoa! It’s about gay people?!” Let’s not completely insult everyone’s intelligence. We’re over it. Really. The fact that the film uses “Moms’s” as a casual term is not the focus. But the fact that the moms have both used the same sperm donor to have their children is what ignites the story here. Naturally kids are curious, and they want to know who their sperm donor is, much like adopted kids or kids with single moms who say “well I don’t know who your father is…could have been anyone!”
Anyway, curiously the film manages to avoid using the word “father” or “dad” entirely as it’s all the fashion to be very specific in defining “mom” and “dad”. Parents perform a role. Moms, played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, have used this sperm donation as a way of uniting their genetics and yet when the man who donated the sperm tries to be a part of the family, things don’t work out quite as neatly. Remarkably the film manages to let you inside the perspective of all the main characters, the kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson), both moms, the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo), and even the sperm donor’s sometimes date (played by the strikingly photogenic Yaya DeCosta).
Writers Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg’s characters here are never all good and never all bad. Everyone’s alright. As far as performances, the role of the sperm donor really stands out. Ruffalo plays Paul, an organic restaurant owner and hippie-playboy, with much warmth and dimension. Ruffalo, who may be one of the most underrated actors working today, never makes his motivations obvious when he allows himself to get involved with the children and one of the moms, but we start to realize just as he does that he feels a need to have a family. This suggests that in a man’s journey there is a time when he stops avoiding commitment and decides he’s ready to take on being a family guy. Unfortunately here it takes momentarily wrecking a family for him to discover this, exposing the fact that the parents (moms) aren’t so alright.
Bening’s shining moment comes when the family is having dinner at Paul’s house. Bening owns the scene as the camera shows both her and her point of view. We know what she’s capable of, the vast emotional resources at her disposal, so it’s also what she doesn’t do in this scene that kills us. Cholodenko accomplishes a moment of brilliance here, which is the pivotal and most significant scene in the movie. Bening is riveting here, as she has the ability to work the camera and turn you inside out, proving once again why she is one of the best ever. Editors must adore her. And for this she should just be handed an award for existing and for our gratitude that she’s working in the business. Once and for all, this woman is impressive, and not just for turning one of the most notorious players in Hollywood into a family man.
Kudos to Lisa Cholodenko, a fine filmmaker, who has her own strong voice as a filmmaker and writer, and who has managed to grab the attention of the Academy in her unconventional way of embracing conventional family values.
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Release Date: July 30, 2010
Run Time: 106 minutes
Distributor: Mandalay Vision