Train children in the right way,
and when old, they will not stray.
Although the parents, Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening), are lesbians, this is a film about family relationships and not about gender preference. Director/co-writer (with Stuart Blumberg) Lisa Cholodenko depict the non-mainstream family as having the same problems as any family whose children are teenagers. Each of the parents is the birth mother of one of the children, thanks to a sperm donor. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) has just finished high school and plans to attend college. Younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is midway through high school.
Jules and Nic are as different in temperament as the parents in any “straight” family. Jules is the breadwinner, her income from her medical practice enabling them to live very comfortably. She is also very controlling, even rigid, against which the teenagers are now rebelling. Long ago she persuaded Nic, more of a free spirit, to give up her vague career aspirations in order to stay home and care for the children. Now that the children are almost grown Nic is rethinking her vocational plans: the idea of starting a lawn and gardening business intrigues her. Then, suddenly the family’s well-ordered lives are turned upside down by an event far more unsettling than a daughter leaving the nest.
Paul (Mark Ruffalo) is brought into their lives when Joni and Laser, curious about their father, decide to contact him. Joni is now 18 and legally eligible to do so, although she keeps this a secret from her mothers. Curious himself, Paul agrees when she contacts him at the number provided by the sperm agency. Paul is still unmarried and devoted to his small organic farm, the produce of which supplies his upscale little restaurant. The first meeting is awkward, but ends with Joni wanting to meet again. Laser, less impressed with his sperm father, is not so uncertain. When he inadvertently lets slip the news, Jules and Nic react differently, Jules upset and Nic wanting to get to know Paul.
How Paul affects each of them, even threatening Jules and Nic’s relationship, unfolds in a dramatic, even heart-wrenching, way. There are two scenes that possibly will lead to Oscar talk for Annette Bening, though all the principals are note perfect in their portrayals of a family under stress.
Some Christian viewers will be put off by the non-issue treatment of a lesbian relationship, and those on the far right, convinced that any child raised by a gay couple is bound for perversion, will be put off by both the depiction of the brother and sister as normal kids and by the title. The filmmakers have borrowed the latter from, though changing the spelling, a song by the Who, and from a documentary film about the group, “The Kids Are Alright.” From what we see, Jules and Nic have done their job in the spirit of the famous passage from Proverbs. Despite the momentary betrayal that threatens the family, we can believe that not only the kids, but the parents as well will be all right.
For reflection/Discussion There are definitely spoilers below!
1. Although filmmakers during the past 40 years have evolved from their anti-gay through parody to an acceptance of the gay lifestyle, how do you feel after watching this film? How is this family different from yet similar to so-called straight families? What are the issues that they deal with in the first half of the film?
2. Do the children show any ill effects from having been raised in such an unconventional family? What must have been some issues that the kids had to deal while growing up, especially in relationship to their school friends and teachers?
3. Describe the five main characters. Who seems rigid; who is flexible?
4. How did you feel about what Nic and Paul do? (If you are “straight,” were you even a bit hopeful that she might be “normal” after all?) How is it that her own sloppiness gives her away to the neat and meticulous Jules?
5. How is a relationship defined by all of the shared memories cherished by a couple? How does society help keep a couple together so that they do not break up because of momentary changes in feelings toward one another? How is this safeguard largely withheld from gay couples?
6. In one scene Nic says that sometimes in a relationship one partner no longer sees the other. What do you think she means by this? How does this happen, especially in long term relationships such as marriage? How can we insure that we continue to “see” one another?
7. What do you think will happen to Jules and Nic? What hopeful signs did you see in the last scene?
8. The main thrust of the Who’s song has little bearing on the film’s plot, the main tie-in being the line that is repeated throughout: “Better leave her behind with the kids, they’re alright/The kids are alright.” For the entire lyrics, go to: http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/The-Kids-are-Alright-lyrics-The-Who/7DE665E77A3BD126482569770028F093 7. Regardless of your beliefs and feelings about gays and gay marriage, did this film provide any new insights into this controversial area?