The critic is (not) all right

The Kids Are All Right
 
Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska
Directed by Lisa Chloldenko


 
Dr. Critic Man: And we are back. It’s the top of the hour and you are listening to “The Dr. Critic Man Show” here on the CIB Network — that’s the “Critic in Broadcasting” Network, a place for excellence in critical commentary on today’s films. Thanks for tuning in. Before we get to the callers — and the lines are jammed, we will try and get to everyone — I want to remind everyone that we are talking about this new film — one that the critics have been raving about — called The Kids Are All Right. Have you seen this flick? You have to catch it at your out-of-the-way art house theaters ‘cause of, you know, its touchy themes and independent production values. In case you have not heard about it, the film stars Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as lesbian parents who each conceived a child from the same sperm donor. They are a couple living in LA. Their two kids — the young girl is 18 and about to head off to college and the young man is 16 and restless — are interested in learning about their biological father. So, they call the fertility clinic, get his information, call him up and meet him. Well, my friends, that’s when all hell breaks loose. We have been having a good conversation so far. What do you think about it? I want to hear from you. So, let’s get to our next caller, which is . . . ah, Jim. Thanks for waiting, you are on with Dr. Critic Man.

Annette Bening, left, and Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right.
Photo by Suzanne Tenner

Jim: Hello? Am I on?

Dr. Critic Man: Yes, go ahead.

Jim: Thanks, Dr. Critic Man. You know, I have not seen this film, but I want to take issue with your comment that you can only see this film at — what did you call it? — an art house theater. I take great offense to that. Many films that are shown in those mega-multiplexes have what you call “touchy themes.” Are you suggesting that just because this film is about a married lesbian couple that it has to be banished to the cinematic equivalent of the back alley? I mean, look at all the violence and sex that parades around in so-called mainstream fare. It’s shocking! I’m appalled that you would fall prey to this characterization, don’t you . . . .

Dr. Critic Man: Look, Jim, sorry to cut you off, but that is not what I meant at all. As you no doubt know, a film like this that’s independently produced can’t stand a chance competing with the studio system. And, I will say that although it has humor in it, it is not a comedy. If it was a straight-ahead comedy — you know, treating homosexuality as farce like that film of a couple of years ago called I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry — it likely would have made it to the standard multiplex . . .

Jim: Yeah, but . . .

Dr. Critic Man: Instead, because it’s a drama and treats same sex marriage as a given and just like any other family unit, it can only get a showing in these obscure venues. I meant no disrespect or offense. That’s just the way it is.

Jim: Well, you can trash art house theaters all you like, what with their cramp-inducing uncomfortable seats, and their . . .

Dr. Critic Man: Let’s not turn this into a referendum on the sorry state of art house theaters. Thanks, Jim, but let’s go to our next caller, let’s see, we have Jill, Jill thanks for calling.

Jill: (after a pause) Yes, thanks, as I was telling your screener, I have seen this movie and I was struck by how badly it depicted those two women as parents. I mean, they sure do pry into their children’s lives. There is a scene where they are interrogating their son about whether he might be gay — as if that might be a bad thing — which is ironic coming from a couple of lesbians. And that’s just one scene! These parents just seem to be so. . . I don’t know . . . smothering. They pester, pry, harass, demand — I’d call it over-parenting. Is that the kind of message we should be sending about good parenting?

Dr. Critic Man: Well, Jill, I appreciate your impressions. I suppose if the film is making any commentary it’s that loving parents can be smothering. I’m not sure what it was like for you growing up, but parents can fall prey to over-parenting or any other foible. They are human just like the rest of us and doing the best they can. Let’s get another caller in here, how about Steve. Steve, thanks for calling.

Steve: Uh, yeah, uh I was, uh, just listening to that last caller and I must say she is way off. I thought that these two women were in fact under-parenting. They seemed so . . . I don’t know . . . absorbed in their own milieu . . . can I say that word on the air . . . milieu?

Dr. Critic Man: Yes, but I’m not sure you are using it corr . . .

Steve: . . . that they, uh, failed to take care of the needs of their kids, to really listen to them and attend to their emotional and social development. It’s as if they were living in a bubble.

Dr. Critic Man: Uh, thanks, Steve. I guess it all depends on what you focus on. Let’s go to Helen. Helen, you are on the air.

Helen: Thanks for taking my call, Dr. Critic Man. I have been listening to your show for years, but this I the first time I have called. I felt a need to call about this one as I was taken aback by all the wine consumption depicted in this film — especially by the Bening character. I mean, she is a doctor and is always seen with a glass of wine in her hand. And she’s raising two kids! What kind of role model is she setting?

Dr. Critic Man: I appreciate that, Helen. There is a lot of alcohol consumption depicted in this film. But, the characters do comment on this and urge her to stop drinking so much. They care enough about her to intervene. We all have our own habits and crutches, so let’s not judge. We have time for a couple more callers. Here is Beth. Beth, you are on with Dr. Critic Man. What’s on your mind?

Beth: Well, Dr. Critic Man, I must say that I was offended by the graphic sex in this movie. And it’s only rated R! I thought the ratings board affixed a NC-17 rating to films that show so much . . . excuse my French . . . um, pelvic thrusting! I mean, we are subjected to lots of that in this film! Might as well go to a porno film instead. Oh, wait! We get to see a porno film in this movie! And it’s scenes of a gay porno at that! What happened to making wholesome movies?

Dr. Critic Man: I’m not sure what to say, Beth. I think the sex scenes in this film are depicted with some sly humor and an adult sensibility. They did not seem to be crass or tasteless — or even prurient. They all helped define the characters and helped inform their motivations and actions throughout. I cannot say the same for much of mainstream fare that would treat all this with adolescent snickering. And I do think that there are some wholesome movies out there — but then again that all depends on how you define “wholesome.” One could say that this is a pretty wholesome movie, what with the depiction of people striving to be loving parents, keeping family units together, trying to make a marriage work in spite of the difficulties, having meals together, being open and honest with one another, engaging in loving communication to resolve conflicts instead of screaming at one another. Not only that, but I suppose that one person’s wholesomeness is another person’s hokum. Let’s see, let’s go to line 3 and Fred. Fred, you have the floor…

Fred: (sniff)

Dr. Critic Man: Fred? You there?

Fred: (sob) I’m sorry Dr. Critic Man, I’m . . . I’m just so . . . choked up about this movie (sniff) . . .

Dr. Critic Man: It’s okay, Fred. Try and compose yourself. What has you so weepy?

Fred: Well, Dr. Critic Man, I’m just having such acute separation anxiety after leaving this movie. I mean, it is just so . . . touching. (sniff) This is such a close family . . . and that scene . . . that scene at the end when the daughter is at college, and . . . and . . . the two mothers drive away . . . and . . . (whimper)

Dr. Critic Man: Fred, now listen, get a hold of yourself! It’s just a movie! You’re a grown man for goodness sakes! And besides, don’t go and spoil the ending by giving it away! Be a man! I think we better get on to our last caller. That would be Bill. Bill, you have the last word, what say you?

Bill: You know, Dr. Critic Man, I have been listening to you for a long time and I must say I find your comments about films offensive. You never tell us what you really think about the movies and you always use some diverting narrative format to throw us off. When are you ever going to be straight with us about a movie like The Kids Are All Right? Can you be serious for a change? I mean the movie does have some serious themes and is poignant and . . .

Dr. Critic Man: Um, oh, I hear the background music has started, which means we have run out of time. Gee, that was a fast hour! I want to thank all of the callers and am sorry if we could not get to you. Please join me again next time for more enlightening and inoffensive discussion about films. And, see you all at the concession counter!

Doug Young is The Colorado Statesman’s film critic.