I’m neurotic, you know that already. So it’s only natural that I spend an unwieldy amount of time pondering on the name of Lisa Cholodenko’s latest feature. Somewhere during the loss of translation the title’s been qualified to The Kids Are Alright which suggests something all together different from the actual All Right. It’s not unwarranted to assume that Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wasikowska aren’t the only “kids” it refers, but it’s more of a stretch to consider just what the so-called kids are right about. Laser and Joni are the two children of Nic and Jules – a lesbian couple. The two have both been artificially inseminated, Laser is Jules and Joni is Nic and to make their unconventional a little more tightly knit they used the same sperm donor. Laser seems to be the epitome of the antsy teenager which is not so much an indicator of Cholodenko conforming to stereotype as it is her smart attempt at showing just how “normal” this family is. In the typical sense antsy Laser convinces Joni – bound for college – to contact their donor, enter Paul our donor – and the beginning of the film, but not quite.
The Kids Are All Right is not really about Paul and it might even be overreaching to say that it’s about the family dealing with him. Cholodenko is meticulous in the way she decides to frame the story that no one comes off as the star even if we’d inadvertently consider Nic and Jules as the leads. The Kids Are All Right is the sort of fleeting glimpse into the lives of a suburban family that’s almost bordering on voyeurism because it’s not the big moments like their first meeting with Mark or Jules and Nic’s argument about a particular liaison that matter most. It’s the smaller things like arguments over something like a new truck or Nic’s performance of a Joni Mitchell song that reveal the most about the characters. Cholodenko isn’t satisfied with staying in suburbia and she expands her palette with surprisingly accurate results. Yaya DaCosta as an on-and-off lover of Paul with hair from the eighties manages to deliver a surprisingly delicate performance. Cholodenko’s agenda – if we can call it that – is simple. She’s interested in examining the chink in the armour of normalcy that each of these characters has around them.
That’s what’s makes the performances – all of them – that much more interesting to watch. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that the first thing that got me interested in seeing The Kids Are All Right was the promise of seeing two brilliant actors – Annette Bening and Julianne Moore – opposite each other. And they are acting even though it seems they’re just existing in tandem. It seems to be an obvious direction from Cholodenko who frames the entire film in this manner of existing that makes it that much more real. It’s because Cholodenko decides to submerge the narrative in this very normalcy of life that the film’s conclusion seems discordant in its mundanity. She’s not inventing the wheel, it’s been done before but there only seems to be a standard plot movement. In actuality, though a certain revelation seems to function as a climax it’s not really and Laser’s final words aren’t really a conclusion. When the credits roll there’s a strident sense of something more to come, and that seems to be precisely what Cholodenko seems to be going for. The kids aren’t alright, but they’re all right – whatever they do. Superficially the way that Paul exits the film makes him look like a monster, but though she falters a bit in the execution Cholodenko is never setting him – or anyone – up to be the villain. I wonder if an alternate title couldn’t have been “Whatever Works”. They’re all going about their lives bumping into each other, and they’re probably going about it all wrong but their all doing what’s working for them. So, despite their differing perspectives perhaps the kids – all of them – are all right, even if they’re...wrong. Right?