By far the funniest entry in the London Film Festival this year was The Kids Are All Right, directed by Lisa Cholodenko. It’s been variously described as ‘quirky’, an ‘indie comedy’, ‘this year’s Little Miss Sunshine’ and a ‘lesbian romcom’. All of those descriptions, however, make it sound shit. Which it’s not. So let’s just go with ‘film’. This is a ‘film’. A ‘good’ ‘film’.
It stars Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a gay married couple living in a leafy suburb of Los Angeles. They have two teenage children, both conceived via artificial insemination with sperm from an anonymous donor. As he gets older, their son Laser (Josh Hutcherson) grows more and more curious about his biological father and enlists his older sister Joni to help track him down. Their search leads them to Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a laid-back rakish kind of dude, who owns his own ultra-hip restaurant supplied with food from the on-site organic vegetable garden. Paul is incredibly charismatic and easy–going and initially makes a big impression on the children, however his entry into the family’s life ultimately threatens to tear them apart.
Hang on… Gay marriage? Artificial insemination? Organic vegetables? When Sarah Palin dies, this will be her hell.
The thing I really like about this film, is that it treats the gay relationship at its centre as an entirely normal and uncontroversial thing. (As opposed to the “Lesbians?? Wicked!! I’ve seen videos of them down the internet!!!” attitude favoured by teenage boys and tabloid journalists..) Annette Bening’s character is actually the straightest, most conservative figure in the film. She plays the main breadwinner of the family; uptight and controlling; essentially a reprise of her character from American Beautywith a bit more of a Hillary Clinton vibe.
Instead it’s Mark Ruffalo who is the alternative, leftfield influence. He rides a motorbike, says “right on” a lot and causes all kinds of tension and chaos as he collides with this relatively normal, straight-laced family. I like Ruffalo in this a lot. He’s essentially the model for what I’d like to be like when I reach my early 40’s: laidback, a bit of cad and spends most of his time having elaborate sex with the various twentysomethings who work for him. (I realise this is a fairly unrealistic ambition. At best I’m going to be a David Mitchell and, at worst, an Alan Partridge..)
Most importantly, this is a film with a razor sharp script and really excellent jokes – the scene where Laser quizzes ‘moms’ about why they choose to watch male gay porn together is worth the admission price alone and had the audience I saw it with falling about with laughter. (Although admittedly this was quite a self-satisfied ‘Arts Picturehouse’ kind of laughter – where you laugh, turn to see how much the person sitting next to you is laughing, then turn back to laugh even harder..) It’s also, although I really hate saying this, genuinely heart-warming. I left the cinema feeling cheerful, uplifted and generally positive about the human race.
That lasted about 20 minutes, then I went back to normal.