Finally escaped my house for an evening Saturday night and saw The Kids Are All Right. Which I loved. The dinner table conversations were right on. The acting was great. I loved seeing Julianne Moore’s freckles and Annette Bening’s wrinkles. And the language — of therapy, of cool-kid professions, even of landscape design — was a 2010 time capsule. The decor was nice too.
I squirmed every time Nic (Bening) or Jules (Moore) talked to their children about “taking time to process” an experience, or to each other about “reconnecting” or an emotion “not yet having reached the level of consciousness.” Clearly they have been to couples therapy. I have the same reaction when members of my family who have gone to couples therapy use the same vocabulary. I agree with the sentiment, but I can’t stand the way it’s expressed. Can we have emotional clarity without jargon? The movie first indicates no, then yes.
I also squirmed when they talked about composting, as I’ve also mentioned it to my husband before sleep, a nagging eco-item on my to-do list I’d like to pawn off on someone else. In Laurel Canyon, Lisa Cholodenko’s last film and one of my all time favorites, the cool kids were in the music industry. The hot spot was Chateau Marmont. This time around, Paul (Mark Ruffalo) owns an organic restaurant and adjacent farm (seen above, those galvanized chairs are too perfect). Nic pretentiously refers to his career as being in the “food service industry” but we in the audience at the Cobble Hill Cinema understand it to be so much more. Doctors like Nic are the past of status. Paul is the future.
Nic also doesn’t understand that landscape design — Jules’s latest career idea — could have cachet. We see Jules xeriscaping the hell out of Paul’s back yard and we approve. Nic doesn’t get the language of lavender and succulents… but she does get Joni Mitchell.
My husband rightly pointed out to me that the reason we liked The Kids Are All Right so much is that it is Laurel Canyon, remixed. Frances McDormand could have played either Nic or Jules, though her character, in the earlier film is really a version of Jules: an adult who is still acting like a child, and falls for one. Mark Ruffalo could have played her younger lover Ian as well as Alessandro Nivola did, minus the British accent. Paul is Ian without the slinkiness, a seducer unwilling to admit his complicity.
Nic and her daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) are both versions of Christian Bale’s tightly wound psychiatrist, sympathetic to his patients, hard on everyone else. Cholodenko seems to be arguing that doctors and future doctors (Joni is a National Merit Scholarship winner in science) need locavores and rock stars in their lives. To emerge into adulthood as a well-rounded person, it helps to have one be one, but not both, of your moms.