Let’s get the bugbears out of the way first.
The Kids Are Alright carries many of the same annoying Hollywood casting cliches and genre tropes that we’ve had for many years now. It is a film about a lesbian couple where the starring roles are played by two heterosexual actors. Just like Brokeback Mountain, I Love You Phillip Morris, Milk, Black Swan, A Single Man and virtually every other high profile Hollywood film with prominent gay roles. Casting gay people in gay roles remains the exception and not the rule in Tinsel Town and this film is no different. The film rather cheekily acknowledges this when one of the lesbian mothers explains that she struggles to watch lesbian porn because they cast straight women who ‘come off as fake’. Wink, wink.
And just like many other gay roles in film and television, one of the lesbian characters in The Kids Are Alright momentarily ‘turns’ and engages in a heterosexual affair.
These two footnotes make The Kids Are Alright seem like a cynical production and this diatribe probably make me sound like a skeptical viewer. And yet, somwhat against the odds, this is actually an enjoyable film about a interesting family of well rounded characters that feel sincere and credible. A comparison I could draw on would be Modern Family, a TV sitcom show whose premise sounds awful on paper and yet it manages to work once you become engaged and charmed with the characters who are brought to life by the actors.
I don’t know if I missed it but I don’t think the family in The Kids Are Alright are given a surname. We just know the parents as Nic and Jules. They have two children via artificial insemination: Joni and Laser. You might recognize them as Alice in Wonderland and That Kid From Bridge To Terebithia. Nic is a strong-willed family matriarch. As the breadwinner, she is the strictest parent with the kids and also domineering in her relationship with Jules. Also, Nic is an alcoholic who likes to quaff red wine. For her part, Jules is laid back and has hippy-ish sensibilities.
On her eighteenth birthday, with some pressure from her younger brother Laser, Joni decides to seek out the identity of her biological father. A couple of quick calls to the clinic later (the film moves at a rather brisk pace) and they are put in touch with Paul, a laid back bohemian restaurant owner who rides a motorbike and says ‘right on’ a lot.
After the parents meet Paul, Jules agrees to take up a landscaping project for Paul’s garden. One thing leads to another and she ends up landscaping his pants instead.
The rest of the film explores the consequences this action has on the family. Paul’s effect on the entire family is considerable and although his affair with Jules is inappropriate, it serves as a catalyst for bringing out some longstanding tension and conflict between Jules and Nic.
The Kids Are All Alright may flow like a Slice of Life film but it doesn’t end inconclusively. There is definite closure in many of the relationships and the film draws to a close on a milestone occasion for the family: Joni moves out of the house and into a dorm to attend college. On the car ride back home, Laser suggests that despite the parent’s recent marital strife they should stay together. Why? ‘Because you’re old’ he says.
As a character piece, this is a charming film and the family is very endearing. Reading the director Lisa Cholodenko’s biography online, it appears to be quite a personal work as Lisa herself is a lesbian mother who has a family where the child was conceived via an anonymous donor. If she did draw on her own experiences to colour the film with extra detail and personality, it has definitely been to the film’s betterment.