There was a point last year when I wrote about the issue of “Queer cinema” continuing to be a genre per se. It was, I felt, about time that Hollywood moved onto stories where the alternate sexuality of the characters was merely incidental to the narrative. Instead, the prime mainstream examples that leapt out – “Brokeback Mountain” and “Milk” – featured the idea of the sexuality of the characters at the fulcrum of the narrative; sexuality-as-the-issue so to speak, either personal as in Brokeback, or political as in “Milk”.
And then along came “I Love You Philip Morris“; a romantic comedy with 2 male A-listers in the lead, a movie that was blissfully unaware about the fact that it was a TRAILBLAZING GAY MOVIE. Nope, here we had the queerness of the characters as an established non-issue from the onset, after which the only concern of the movie was to spin a rollicking good yarn, give us a story for the ages – gay or straight.
If Philip Morris demolished notions of what a queer movie could – and should – be, “The Kids are All Right” cheerfully steamrolls over the debris, giving us a neat little family dramedy that refuses to call too much attention to the casually revolutionary nature of its sexual politics.
Nicole (Annette Bening, who deserves her Best Acress nomination) and Jules (Julianne Moore bloody well deserved a nomination herself) are your everyday married lesbian couple with 2 kids from the same anonymous sperm donor. As they near adulthood, the kids want to know more about their dad, and manage to investigate their way to the charming, laidback Paul (Mark Ruffalo has the most unshowy role of the lot, but does it well enough to merit his supporting actor nod). Paul has no family of his own, and his foray into the life of the settled foursome leads to surprising consequences for everyone involved.
Other than a refreshingly unconventional premise at its core, Kids makes a lot of interesting decisions with its turns of narrative. Some are satisfying; Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore play off against each other remarkably well, and its great watching Ruffalo’s character realizing his long-buried need for family. Others, like the closing scenes, don’t ring completely true – there’s a strangely rushed feel, and a lack of deserved closure for one of the characters.
Bening and Moore’s equation is really at the core of the movie, and the two make for a great screen couple. Bening’s the hard-to-like control freak who has moments of fragility; hers is a wonderfully written character, layered with sarcasm and empathy, and the actress masterfully navigates us through these different facets. Moore complements her with an almost balm-like laid back vibe that begins to ignite with the presence of this new person in their lives. “Marriage is hard” she says, in one tearful scene, and we nod in agreement with her, simultaneously rooting for this one to work. As for the kids, they’re, well, pretty all right.
Come Oscar night, and I think this nicely made, well acted, and well written film will probably walk away without any awards. Its probably the weakest in the movie category, as are Mark Ruffalo’s chances for supporting actor. The screenplay nomination contends with the dizzyingly intricate “Inception”, and the sweeping-but-comic “King’s Speech”, both of which I think will leave it trailing. Finally, there’s Annette Bening’s best actress nomination. This right here is possibly the closest the movie could come to snatching Oscar victory, but there’s a raging insane ballerina fighting tooth-and-nail for this one, and the way things look right now, it’s probably Natalie Portman for the gold.