(__Attention Conservation Notice__: 1,200 words trying, and failing, to explain why [film: The Kids Are All Right] is boring and trite and self-satisfied and annoying. The bulleted list below contains the full plot of the movie. Most of the judgments I pass on the film are outside the bullets, so you may just want to read the non-bulleted bits.)
I sat and stared at the screen for a long while, trying to explain what was so … *un-awesome* about [film: The Kids Are All Right]. Somehow that turned out to be really hard. If you take only one thing away from this review, please take away that [film: The Kids Are All Right] is super-overrated, and that I don’t understand why people are into it.
Maybe I’ll get some traction on explaining its lack of goodness if I just make a bulleted list of what happens in the movie. I’m going to summarize basically the entire plot here, so there will be spoilers aplenty. Don’t read on if you intend to see the movie.
I will include bolded question marks (like “__?__”) whenever some part of the movie just puzzled me.
* There’s a boy (“Laser”) and a girl (“Joni”) and their lesbian mothers, played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore.
* The boy does some coke. He’s hanging out with a Bad Dude.
* Laser tells Joni that he wants to meet the sperm donor who was … uh … involved in their creation.
* Joni has to make the call because she’s older than Laser is (she’s 18, he’s 15), and … I guess you need to be an adult in order to make this sort of phone call? (__?__)
* Joni digs through her moms’ filing cabinet to find the sperm bank’s number, she calls that number, the sperm bank gets in touch with the donor, and they agree to meet.
* The sperm donor, Laser, and Joni meet. Things are a little hesitant and awkward at first. Laser thinks the donor is too self-satisfied. Joni likes him.
* Meanwhile, Laser is spending more time with a Bad Dude. The Bad Dude leads Laser into all kinds of trouble, the first bit of which is that they find the moms’ porn collection. It features men having sex. Earlier, we’ve seen the moms start getting it on while they watch dude porn. (__?__)
* The moms have been suspicious that Laser and the Bad Dude are gay together. After they catch Laser and his Bad Dude friend with the porn, they sit him down to have an Intervention and ask if he’s gay. It turns out he’s not gay. Laser asks why they watch dude porn when they are lesbians. They explain that it’s complicated, but it has to do with how female sexuality is internal, so they sometimes need to watch externalized sexuality. Or something. (__?__) Even within the world of the film, that explanation made no sense: the moms seemed confused why they themselves enjoyed it, and they couldn’t explain it clearly to their kids. Clearly the director, Lisa Cholodenko, didn’t expect the audience to understand the explanation, so it’s puzzling to me why she included it.
* The moms discover that their kids have met the sperm donor. The moms decide to meet him too. So everyone gets together for a terribly awkward dinner, wherein Annette Bening asks him, “So … when did you know you wanted to be in the food-service industry?” (He runs a restaurant. It seems successful. He also seems like a stoner.)
* The kids continue to hang out with him. Laser plays basketball with him. Eventually they get close enough that the donor can tell Laser that the Bad Dude is no good, and that Laser should stop hanging out with him. Laser takes umbrage at this.
* Shortly thereafter, Laser and the Bad Dude are walking along in a Bad Part Of Town, and they happen upon an old mangy stray dog. Laser gets down on one knee and starts to pet him. The Bad Dude insists that Laser hold the dog while the Bad Dude pees on the dog (__?__). Laser says no. The Bad Dude calls Laser a pussy. Laser shoves the Bad Dude and calls him a dick. The Bad Dude punches Laser. Thus ends the friendship of Laser and the Bad Dude. The sperm-donor dad has thereby proven his bona fides. Laser and the dad can now be friends.
* Julianne Moore’s character is trying to start a career as a landscape designer. She’s unsure of herself. The sperm-donor dad, Paul, invites her to help design the backyard at his house.
* Needless to say, eventually they bone. Even though she’s lesbian. (__?__)
* Annette Bening finds out about the sex. She is devastated.
* Paul tries to visit the Lesbian House to make amends. Annette Bening tells him to go and make his own family and get out of hers. That is the last we see of Paul. Other movies would have thought that Paul was maybe more important than that, and wouldn’t have dropped his character so artlessly.
* The painful process of reconciliation continues between Bening and Moore. Moore gives a little tearful speech to her family about how much marriage sucks, and how it’s so easy to take your partner for granted, and so yeah, sorry, cry cry cry. This is the scene that they’ll show when [film: The Kids Are All Right] is nominated for an Oscar; mark my words.
* The moms drive their daughter to college to start her freshman year. She asks them to leave her room because she’s been chafing under their grip (been going to parties, drinking, trying to make herself into a hypersexualized being that she probably isn’t), spends some time alone, and then semi-desperately comes looking for them after thinking they’ve abandoned her and gone home. She thereby proves that she’s still mamas’ little girl. Everyone has a big reconciling group hug, moms get back in the car and head home, Joni goes off to college, all is well, fade to black.
I think what bugs me most about this is that if it didn’t feature lesbians, it would be an utterly boring movie about the perils of a boring domestic life. But we all know what a boring domestic life is like; we live that life every day. What this movie contributes to that storyline is … lesbians. Its entire premise is basically “See? Lesbians have complicated lives too.” But this is not a discovery.
As for the portrayal of lesbians: throughout [film: The Kids Are All Right] and afterward, my ladyfriend and I agreed that there hadn’t been any actual lesbians involved in the making of the film. The web tells me that Lisa Cholodenko is, herself, actually lesbian, so my lady and I were wrong. What this movie teaches us, in any case, is that a) lesbians like watching guy porn, b) lesbians sometimes need to have sex with a penis, c) lesbian problems are just like straight-couple problems.
And throughout the movie, it’s a bunch of self-satisfied upper-middle-class Californians eating healthy, delicious meals in jaw-droppingly gorgeous homes and kitchens. The kids and the lesbian moms all sit down together every night to share dinner like a good, happy, boring domestic family. We’re watching any number of 1950s sitcoms, re-enacted with lesbians and dude porn.
Having written all this, it still doesn’t feel like I’ve captured the utter annoying banality of this movie, but I’ll have to let it go. [film: The Kids Are All Right] is transcendently boring; all descriptions of its banality are condemned to understate just how trite it is.