Over the weekend, PJ and I watched Lisa Cholodenko‘s The Kids Are All Right. We were particularly excited to see this movie, since it’s getting a lot of Oscar buzz, but also because it’s been rather controversial. I read one review, for example, in which the reviewer walked out halfway through the movie because she was so angered by its depiction of lesbian sexuality.

Here’s the trailer:

The movie stars Annette Bening as Nic and Julianne Moore as Jules, two lesbians who have raised two children together. Nic is a doctor and is somewhat stressed out and consumed by her job. Trained as an architect, Jules seems to float from one thing to the next professionally. At the start of the film she’s decided to begin a landscaping business.

More stress is added to their relationship when their oldest kid, Joni, played by Mia Wasikowska, decides to contact her sperm donor shortly after her eighteenth birthday. She doesn’t really care to meet him, but her younger brother, Laser, played by Josh Hutcherson, pushes her into it.

Mark Ruffalo plays Paul, the sperm donor. He’s thrilled to receive word that Joni wants to meet him. He’s a restaurateur, owns an organic local farm patch, and has a lot in common with Jules, as he’s also a bit feckless.

In fact, Paul and Jules soon embark on an affair. Things with Nic are kind of shitty, and Paul has a kind of magnetism that she can’t resist. To quote from My Fair Lady, he’s so deliciously low. It’s only a matter of time before thing blow up, and everyone has to figure out what they want and what to do about it all.

I went into this film feeling kind of hostile about it. Having read the review that criticized its sexual politics, I was ready to hate it, in fact. But I found that the reviewer who walked out halfway through was being too simple-minded about the film. She should have given it a chance to show her where it was headed.

Because its sexual politics are actually quite interesting. I especially though that its portrayal of the affair seemed really realistic. Jules asserts throughout that she’s a lesbian and that the sex with Paul doesn’t change that. It’s about how the affair makes her feel. Because her relationship with Nic has gotten worse over time, she’s susceptible to Paul’s attention even though she knows the relationship is wrong and that she doesn’t even really want it. I thought that Jules’s assertion that sometimes you make really bad decisions not because you don’t love your partner any more but because doing so — even knowing how wrong it is — makes you feel something other than the stress or anxiety or disappointment or whatever it is you’re feeling at the time made a lot of sense. I suspect it’s kind of akin to cutting.

Bening, Moore, and Ruffalo are all getting some Oscar talk. I’ll be surprised if the buzz holds that long. I really enjoyed the movie, but I don’t think it has the staying power to mount a successful Oscar campaign unless there’s a real dearth of good movies this fall, which is always possible. And if Bening does get a nomination for Best Actress, I don’t think she’ll get the win. She has one really brilliant scene, but is otherwise more a supporting character in the movie. If she went supporting in the campaign, I think she’d get it without any problem. But so far everyone is considering her a lead, even though Moore has a lot more screen time.

At any rate, The Kids Are All Right is a really good and interesting movie. I give it a “B+” and definitely recommend it.

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