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The Kids Are All Right – the parents are screwed up

The Mumses

The Mumses

Embarrasssment defines and divides Americans and Brits. Movies reveal this. For Americans embarrassment is funny: for Brits embarrassment is, well, embarrassing. Films like Meet The Fokkers or any comedy with Robert de Niro in it demonstrate this perfectly. Ben Stiller is the patron saint of embarrassment humour.

There is an instinct for schadenfreude in American humour that the more innocent British funnybone lacks. Its not just humour: its sex and emotion too. The Kids Are All Right is an embarrassing movie: full of embarrassing situations and characters. Indeed it is the first movie I can remember where the actors seem embarrassed by their own characters.

Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are an unconvincing lesbian couple with two kids, Joni and Laser, from the same sperm donor. Joni after Mitchell and Laser after failing to think of a remotely sensible name for a boy.

Gynecologist Nic (Bening) is a tautologically tight-assed, anally retentive control freak whose post-prandial wine intake exposes her to being found drunk in charge of a speculum. Jules (Moore) is the polar opposite to Nic’s analytic emotional pathology: instinctive, intuitive and under-achieving measured against Nic’s professional earning power.

This rampantly co-dependent odd couple find common ground by watching gay manporn to get it on, not up, in bed. I’m no expert in such exotic erotica but if I were, per impossibile, a lesbian, I would hate this movie. This does of course set up the excruciatingly embarrassing, therefore hilarious scene when Laser and his sociopathic dudemate first find and then are caught by Jules, watching the aforementioned dickfest.

The kids decide to seek out their biological donor father. Enter Paul (Mark Buffalo – sorry Ruffalo): a testosterone-drenched vision in distressed black motorcycle leather. This often engaging actor who appears to have hair where even a gorilla would have skin, is reduced throughout to an amiable aw shucks embarrassed shuffle. De rigeur for Hollywood these days, especially with female directors – here Lisa Cholodenko – Paul has the emotional age of a slow-witted 3-year old and zero emotional intelligence, whatever that is. Just the kind of guy who would donate sperm at ’60 bucks a pop’ because ‘it seemed more fun than giving blood.’

Shaggy shagger Paul first bonds with his test-tubular offspring then inevitably shags one of the ‘mumses’. Jules is the lucky recipient of this penetrating beneficence and stereotypically welcomes the uncoiled Paul appendage with a delighted’hello’ as if greeting a long lost but never forgotten friend. Hardly pausing to shed her wellies – she’s supposed to be ‘designing’ his garden – Jules re-introduces Paul to sperm donation: but freebies this time.

When Nic spots Jules’s long hairs sluttishly clogging up Paul’s shower drain her bisexual s**t hits Nic’s monogamous fan. If dear reader, you find my language here a shade inelegant, even indelicate, please know that it strongy echoes Cholodenko’s screenplay.

Paul of course hasn’t actually shagged Jules back to her heterosexual senses and after a suitably embarrassing confessional mea culpa monologue to her squirming family, Jules is forgiven and normal homosexual tranquility reigns again.

It’s hard to take any of this seriously. No amount of clench-jawed womanly snogging between Moore and Bening convinces us of the authenticity of their relationship and the sub-text is clearly that as a guy Paul naturally has a more comfortable intimacy with a specimen cup than either of the mothers of his children.

Considerable acting talent is squandered here on a sexually and emotionally confused and confusing screenplay and some simply lazy small part casting and direction. Not quite as embarrassing as watching an episode of the Apprentice – but getting close. And not as funny.

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