‘The Kids Are All Right’ is About Marriage, Period

The Kids Are All RIght movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2010.

Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right” takes its title from one of many great songs by The Who. However, I kept wondering about the movie’s title in regards to the way it is spelled. The Who’s song is entitled “The Kids Are Alright” while the movie splits “Alright” into “All Right.” What exactly does this mean? Are the kids infinitely more intelligent than the parents in this movie? Do they make better decisions in their lives than the adults? We all know kids have a stronger detector system when it comes to exposing the hypocrisy of parents and adults in general, so perhaps the movie’s title means to spell this out literally. Or maybe it’s because The Who made a rockumentary a number of years back called “The Kids Are Alright,” and perhaps Focus Features didn’t want to confuse the two. Anyway, that’s just a thought.

I was lucky enough to catch a screening of this movie on the day Proposition 8 was overturned by the California Supreme Court (YES!!!). This was the same proposition which barred gay couples from getting married and found funding from people who didn’t even live in California. However, to call this a gay or lesbian movie would make audiences completely miss the point as that is like calling “Brokeback Mountain a “gay cowboy” movie for crying out loud. What the couple of Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) go through is not any different from what many “straight couples” go through, and it really gets to the truth of what hard work marriage can be.

Nic and Jules are a very loving couple indeed, and there is no doubt about how deep their affection for one another is. Furthermore, they have two wonderful children: a 15-year-old boy named Laser (Josh Hutcherson), and an 18-year old girl named Joni (Mia Wasikowska) who is about to head off to college. The major difference between Nic and Jules is while Nic has had a successful career as a physician, Jules has failed at just about every business she has tried to start up on her own. It gets to where Jules starts to wonder if Nic is really just belittling everything she does, and a resentment between the two grows quickly.

But what really throws a wrench into the family’s dynamic is when Joni, after being pushed by Laser to do so, contacts their biological father. Both were conceived by artificial insemination, and the sperm donor turns out to be a very nice guy named Paul (Mark Ruffalo) who has a phobia of commitment and leads a decidedly bohemian life. Upon meeting these two kids, he warms up to them immediately and finds himself changing in ways he didn’t expect. But then he meets the parents, and things get really crazy.

What I really liked about “The Kids Are All Right” was that after a summer of superheroes and high concept movies, here’s one which deals with real people and situations we all recognize from our own lives and the lives of others. The characters conceived here are all well meaning people who never come across as contrived or clichéd in the usual sense. Director Lisa Cholodenko, along with co-writer Stuart Blumberg, succeed in creating some wonderful characters, and they give them with hilarious dialogue which is also insightful and refreshingly down to earth. These are people with visible flaws which make them all the more human, as if we need to be told this.

I never found myself taking sides or hating any of the characters. Like I said, each one is well meaning and comes into this situation with the best of intentions. Of course, we all know where the best of intentions can lead us. When these people stray from one another, we may disagree with what they do, but Cholodenko uses this to make us understand why some end up doing the things they do. Everyone is complicated in their own way, but labeling people as bad for doing certain things only serves to blind us from understanding them as individuals.

All the actors are clearly in love with playing the intricacies of their roles, and each one creates a character we quickly become emotionally invested in. Annette Bening is perfect as Nic, the bread winner of the family. While at times very high strung and a bit overprotective of her family, she imbues Nic with a strong sense of commitment while losing sight of what brought her into this relationship in the first place.

Julianne Moore shines as she always does as Jules who feels increasingly neglected in her role as housewife, and her fear that Nic is not taking her career endeavors seriously feels very much justified. In many ways, Jules gets looked down more than anyone else in the script, but Moore never makes Jules a pitiful creature and gives her a strong center which she finds her way back to. Also, her speech on marriage is one of the movie’s best moments, and it comes from an honest place.

Mark Ruffalo continues his reign of great naturalistic performances and makes film acting look effortless. His character of Paul could have been the bad guy of the piece or some sitcom-like character, but you never doubt his sincerity in how he grows to love these kids which he had a hand in bringing into the world. Even when he missteps (and he really does), I found it impossible to dislike the guy. Of all the characters in “The Kids Are All Right,” he is the one who grows the most, but his revelations come in a way which is not exactly appropriate.

Both Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson are great as the kids, and Cholodenko keeps them from becoming conventional in the teenager mainstream movie kind of way. Wasikowska gets to be much livelier here than she was in Tim Burton’s bland remake of “Alice In Wonderland,” and she radiates intelligence which makes her character wise beyond her years to where she comes across as the most mature one in the film. Hutcherson also makes Laser into an interesting kid caught up in friendships which aren’t really sound and finding a father figure in the last place he expected to. Seeing him discovering his parents’ videotape of gay male pornography leads to one of the funniest scenes this movie has to offer.

If there is any complaint I have with “The Kids Are All Right,” it’s the ending. The plight of Ruffalo’s character is frustratingly left unresolved, and we never do learn if he will keep in touch with Joni and Laser. Nic and Jules do get a satisfying conclusion, but seeing Paul getting cut loose was an unfortunate disappointment. I was eagerly waiting to see where he would end up after all which had ensued.

Still, “The Kids Are All Right” is one of the nicest surprises of the 2010 summer movie season, and it deservedly got a large audience for an independent film. It has what I would like to see more of in movies: regular, down to earth people with problems and flaws much like anyone else’s. I also think it involves a relationship which any couple (and I strongly stress the word ANY) can relate to in different ways.

By the way, for those of you who think that gays getting married is still a threat to the “sanctity of marriage,” I got two words for you: Donald Trump. End of story.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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Exclusive Interview with Andrea Iervolino and Lady Monika Bacardi on ‘In Dubious Battle’

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James Franco steps behind the camera once again for his directorial effort, and adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel “In Dubious Battle.” This movie takes us back to the 1930’s when a group of migratory workers rose up and began a strike against landowners who informed them their pay was being cut from $3 to $1 a day for their work. In addition to directing, Franco also stars as one of strike’s key leaders, Jim Nolan, who struggles to stay true to his idealism of having the courage never to submit or yield. Also, it features a fantastic cast of actors which include Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bryan Cranston, Ed Harris, Nat Wolff, Selena Gomez, Sam Shepard, Zach Braff and Josh Hutcherson.

I got to speak with the producers of “In Dubious Battle,” Andrea Iervolino and Lady Monika Bacardi, recently at the Redbury Hotel in Hollywood, California. Iervolino is considered one of the most accomplished entrepreneurs in the movie business as he has financed and distributed over 50 films since he was 16 years old. Bacardi is an entrepreneur as well and a successful businesswoman, patron of the arts, philanthropist, and humanitarian. Together, they founded the AMBI Group, a multi-national consortium of vertically integrated film development, production, finance and distribution companies.

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Ben Kenber: I thought the movie was really good, and it was surprising to learn that this was one of John Steinbeck’s lesser-known books because, in today’s world, it is so timeless. Is that what really attracted you to producing this movie?

Andrea Iervolino: You know, two years ago, when we decided to produce this movie, we didn’t expect what is now happening in the United States.

Lady Monika Bacardi: A lot of the demonstrations that have happened after the release of the movie. The demonstrations in the film and people fighting for their rights, and now history is repeating itself.

AI: We decided to do this movie because, first of all, we’re big fans of John Steinbeck. He is the best author in American culture, and of course, we love James Franco. When we read the script, me and Monika, we were in two different countries; I was in New York and she was in Monte Carlo. We received the script and we talked for six hours about it.

LMB: And then we decided (to do the movie). It was very fast.

AI: Super-fast. And then we tried to do the maximum we can to promote the movie, and we also went to the Venice Film Festival where it received two awards (for James Franco and Andrea Iervolino). We went to the Toronto Film Festival, the Vail Film Festival, in Capri, etc. So everywhere we went, he received awards for the movie. So, we are proud of the quality in this movie is timeless. We believe today that in 10 years when you watch the movie, for sure a revolution will happen again. A protest will happen again for many individuals so you can think this can be me.

LMB: Yes. When people fight for their rights and they gather together, it’s the hope that they can help them because in their time there were a lot of revolutions that changed things and help the workers get the rights they deserved. So, it’s a message of hope.

BK: It’s interesting how you talk about history repeating itself because it’s a sad fact we can’t seem to escape.

LMB: Yes, it’s sad because we should be learning from history, and the same mistakes should not be made again. There must always be a positive revolution, but unfortunately, we see over and over again that history doesn’t change we make the same mistakes. It repeats itself.

BK: Yes, and that’s why it’s great this movie is being released now. Also, it feels like a miracle this movie got made in today’s world of superhero movies. Was it hard to get the financing for it?

AI: If you do a movie at the right budget, you can do every type of movie you want. The toughest ones to market are the most commercial ones. We believe this movie was made for the right budget and had the right cast, and we believe this movie respects the audience it was meant for.

BK: How much time did you have to shoot this movie in?

AI: The movie was shot in around five weeks.

BK: That sounds like a longer schedule than you like this tend to get these days. Also, it has quite the cast. Was it difficult getting all those actors together?

LMB: James Franco actually has a lot of friends, and he loves John Steinbeck. As a director, he called his friends, and for that reason, this is why he has all the stars together here. He’s a great director and a great actor.

BK: You can tell this is a film people got involved in because of their love and belief in the material, and it really shines through here. Also, you to have been working in the movie business for a while now. How would you say movies have evolved during your time in the business?

AI: You know, I did my first movie was when I was 15, so 14 years ago, I was doing a movie in digital. So, I was the first one in Italy to do a movie in digital because they don’t pay you a lot of money to make your first movie. I financed it by going door to door in my town to collect money, so I was forced to do my movie in digital. But then a few years later I became more powerful because I was the first one with the experience in digital, and I also started to make a movie in Italy with the same technology and distribution point of view, and that was when I was 21. Basically, in my point of view, in the way you can produce a movie there is change, but today I think there are more independent people, young people, with opportunities to produce their movies because the key is that the distribution system has changed. Before you can monetize your movie, you have to go to a local agent to bring your movie to a local cinema or in the local store to someone who can print your DVD, and then you need the agent to go speak with a company. So today, you can run content by yourself. You can do one deal worldwide, and you can add your movie directly to the internet platform. For big managers today, this is a problem because the distribution power is going down, down, down because if you do have good content, you can go for direct distribution, so from who produces and who watches the movie, it is only one step. Before it was 10 or 20 steps which is what managers took advantage of.

LMB: This distribution changed on us.

AI: Yes. And if you think about it, it is like going back. My mentor in Italy, Luciano Martino, he was doing movies in Italy in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and the 1970’s. He was telling me he was producing the movies by himself with his company, and he was going to the cinemas everywhere in Italy to position the movies, and then the movies ran the cinema for six months. So, it was one step production, and today it is again one step. So, it’s like going back. The powers coming back to the producer, not the distribution companies.

LMB: I agree with Andrea always 100%. We cannot speak at the same time, but we have the same opinions on film.

BK: With the changes in distribution, did that help “In Dubious Battle” or take away from it at all?

AI: It actually helped this movie for sure because we were going to go out with the DVD system so we will go out in the principal market, and the same time we will go out in the DVD system. A movie like this cannot make 20 million in one week; it’s too risky. But today, with this new platform, this movie can embrace this distribution concept where you can arrive to your audience and make your audience find the movie all around them without losing your investment.

BK: There is so much money put into advertising movies these days to where it costs more to promote them than to make them.

AI: Yes, sometimes more.

BK: So, it’s nice to see a movie like this can still find its audience while not having a huge budget for advertising.

LMB: Yes, absolutely.

AI: I really believe in three, four or five years, it will become more and more possible to produce a movie with a specific audience because you will know where you can find the audience that likes this movie. Before you needed to spend $10 million dollars in TV advertising in order to get to 300 million people, and in order to reach 3 million people who like your movie.

LMB: (Laughs). It’s absolutely true. Plus, the young people have a different concept that they look a lot of internet, and they go to the movies a lot less than our generation did. It depends on the country, and every country is different

BK: Was there any pressure to modernize this book at all when it came to making this movie?

LMB: We had to keep it as a true story because the message it gives is actually timeless about how history repeats itself. You have to keep it at the time and be true to the book so we cannot change it completely.

AI: Also, the love story component in the movie between Selena Gomez and Nat Wolff and the friendship story between James and Nat, these help the movie be more accessible to young people. Maybe 15, 16 or 18-year-olds, they don’t know or care about John Steinbeck.

LMB: And the love story makes it very human and very touching. It’s about the revolution, but it’s also about the human story and the human aspect.

BK: It almost would have been great to see this movie made in black and white. Was that ever a consideration?

AI: You know, it was in the beginning for about five minutes, but it was too difficult. Black-and-white in a distribution point of view can give you so many limitations. Maybe we can do a black-and-white animation movie someday.

I want to thank Andrea Iervolino and Lady Monika Bacardi for taking the time to talk with me. “In Dubious Battle” premieres in theaters and VOD on February 17, 2017.

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