I've been trying to cram as much PhD study as possible into the final weeks before parenthood upends everything I've been accustomed to, and while I've continue to see a reasonable number of films I've been remiss in writing up any notes afterwards. As a consequence, before I managed to construct any sensible thoughts on The Kids Are All Right I read the terrific end-of-2010 discussion at Dennis Cozzalio's blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, which features the film prominently.
Dennis himself and Sheila O'Malley, proprietor of The Sheila Variations, hit on several of the issues that bothered me when watching the film, most obviously the resolution: although it has a certain open-endedness, suggesting a story that continues well beyond the credits, the conclusion still came across as far too neat for a film that was otherwise trying to give a sense of nuance to our picture of family life. Indeed, the overall narrative is familiar from more ostensibly mainstream fare - a settled, closed group, in this a family with two moms, disrupted by the arrival of a new presence, the sperm donor who made the family possible. The film, to me, seems to want to have its cake and eat it - suggesting a more unusual narrative than it is ultimately prepared to deliver, just as it complicates our picture of lesbian sexuality while also seeming to suggest that some lesbians just need to find the right man.
What does work, though - beyond the terrific acting ensemble - is the loose, sunny feel of the film, set against a perfect California summer when everything in this particular family is on the verge of change. Cholodenko transitions easily between gorgeous establishing shots of her suburban locations and handheld camerawork that underlines the jittery tension of other sequences, such as the angry confrontation that ensues when Mark Ruffalo's easygoing character gives a motorbike ride to his (biological) daughter. The motorbike ride itself is just one in a series of lovely scenes extolling the pleasures of life on the move - an early sequence with a bike gives a sense of never-ending youth, while later a long drive on the highway somehow functions as a catharsis for the befuddled, angry characters.