For those of you who haven't heard of this film, you can read a synopsis of the plot here. This post contains mild spoilers so if you plan to see the movie and don't want to know anything about what happens, stop reading now and just look at the pretty, pretty picture of Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. Cinematic history is full of fairy tales. They are comforting. They allow us to believe that problems are caused by villains and and that adversity can be overcome with the wave of a wand or the arrival of someone to save us. Fairy tales relieve us of responsibility and promise that happiness lasts forever.
The Kids Are All Right is many things - funny, heartbreaking, refreshing - but it is certainly no fairy tale.
This movie is one of the most honest depictions of family and relationships I have ever seen. The interactions between Nic, Jules and the kids are authentic. The dialogue is nearly perfect and the characters speak in ways that are familiar. When they give monologues, there are pauses and tangents and awkwardness. There are memorable speeches to be sure but they come off as natural, rather than perfectly constructed soliloquies. The conversations are snappy and often hilarious. I would pay good money to see it again just to watch Nic go off about heirloom tomatoes.
Nic and Jules are the heart of this story and Annette Bening and Julianne Moore make these flawed characters both believable and lovable. They make mistakes and snap judgements. They do things that make us cringe. They hurt each other. They infuriate and embarrass their kids. They struggle with change. They expect too much and give too little. They are imperfect and it is precisely that imperfection that makes the movie so real.
Much has been written about the fact that Jules cheats on Nic with a man. Many lesbians are outraged that Lisa Cholodenko used this worn out cliché and I had reservations about it too. However, it makes sense in the greater context of the film and, if it helps, think of Paul simply as a plot device. Nic and Jules have been together for years and we can see how much they love each other. There is nothing to suggest that Jules has ever been conflicted about her life with Nic and she is clear that she is "gay". Because of this, Paul is not a threat to their relationship. The affair reveals the true threat - that Nic and Jules have neglected their relationship and each other for far too long. Do I wish that Nic and Jules had had at least one hot sex scene together? Absolutely. Do I wish that there had been less heterosexual sex? You betcha. But Lisa Cholodenko shouldn't have to bear the burden of creating the perfect lesbian movie any more than Nic should bear the burden of presenting a perfect lesbian family to the world. This movie is about love and relationships and the relationship the audience cares most about is the one between Nic and Jules. That was clear to me when the movie ended and the audience broke into applause.
Towards the end of the movie, Jules says,
...marriage is hard. It’s really fucking hard. It’s just two people slogging through the shit, year after year, getting older, changing - it's a fucking marathon, OK?
This is the absolute truth - I know because I have lived it for 17 years. In day to day life, there are few villains and no guarantees of "happily ever after". Love is complicated. We love. We make mistakes and we start again. Happiness is not a constant - it comes and goes. Fairy tales tell us that life could be better, that there is perfection in the intangible. "The Kids Are All Right" shows that there is immeasurable beauty in the mess of life and reminds us to appreciate what we have. Not bad for the price of a movie ticket.