This Kids Are Alright hates your dad


Earlier this year, The Kids Are Alright was receiving all sorts of attention for its portrayal of a lesbian married couple with two children (each had one child) from the same sperm donor.  It looks like a quirky family drama/comedy (Little Miss Sunshine), but fathers aren’t included in that dynamic. This film wouldn’t piss on fathers if they were on fire – it just pisses on them, period.

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR WHOLE POST

For starters, fifteen year old Laser asks his older sister Joni to contact their biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo).  Evidently once Joni turns eighteen she can call contact the sperm bank to see if the anonymous donor would be willing to meet his long ago conceived offspring.  Paul agrees to chat, the kids meet him and have a rocky start, but eventually a relationship starts to build.

In stark contrast to the way über-mommy Nic (Annette Bening) cajoles, Paul gently nudges the kids with suggestions and comments.  There’s no pressure, he just says what he thinks they should consider and moves on.  It’s then through Paul’s guidance that Joni starts to set boundaries for Nic’s controlling demeanor.

Even better, Nic and Jules (Julianne Moore) are worried about Laser at the beginning of the film since he seems differently lately; Nic specifically thinks it’s the company he’s keeping: Clay, a drug using wannabe skateboarder whose idea of a good time is peeing on stray dogs.

And who, pray tell, helps Laser get up the gumption to tell Clay to bugger off?

Paul.

So how does the film take the laid back, nice father/sperm donor character and turn him into a piñata?  Nic has been distant (emotionally and physically) and overall snotty to Jules, which strains the marriage to the point that Jules kisses Paul, which kicks off a full blown affair.  When it goes public, Nic is upset (obviously) and the kids, who had been spending tons of time with Paul to the consternation of Nic, blow him off.

Eventually Paul visits the house to talk to Joni face to face.  He apologizes for helping muck up the family situation, expresses how much he values his new found daughter, and practically begs to be able to see her again.  All she says is that she doesn’t know if that can happen.  The scene ends with Nic slamming the door in his face, and when Laser catches Paul’s eye through the window, Laser walks away.

Jules then apologizes to the whole family, they help Joni move to the dorm, and as Jules and Nic drive home, they hold hands.  Fin.

BUT WHAT ABOUT PAUL?!  You have a freakin’ sperm donor who doesn’t contact them, but is sought by his children and turns out to be a decent guy who really cares about his kids.  Hell, he proves more involved and helpful with his children than the bickering mothers.  To top it all off Jules is the one who starts the affair, but Paul is the one who takes all the heat and gets kicked out of the cool kids club.  Mom makes a big speech, apologizes,  and we’re okay with her; but that new guy, even when he’s begging to be a loving parent, gets kicked to the curb.

They're relishing his tears with a good red wine.

It’s like they introduced a labrador puppy that brightens everyone’s day, but as soon as he makes that one piddle on the carpet, off to the pound he goes.  The guy is so sincere and kind (blowing off a former sex buddy because he wants to eventually have a family; treating Jules and the kids much better than Nic does) that not getting him back into the fold by the end of the film makes the whole family look like a bunch of unforgiving assholes.

Finally, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top of the sundae, is that a film prominently featuring a lesbian marriage also kicks aside a nice male character with little explanation – which leaves the subtextual aftertaste of manhating.

Given that, I don’t believe that was the intention.  Really, I think that as they were writing the script, they realized halfway through how well they had built up Paul as a nice guy, while they had simultaneously been chipping away at the lesbian couple.  So by the last 1/3 or so they’re in damage control mode and decide to flip it – eff the Paul guy, let’s show Nic and Jules patching things up.

If the film had followed through on where the affair was going, Jules would divorce Nic to be with Paul, who is supportive, not spiteful, and Nic would be left out in the cold – which, given how Nic stomps around spitting spite through the whole film, would have felt more reasonable (of course, that and the affair itself has the nasty connection to the chauvinistic adage “all lesbians need is a good lay to turn them straight”).

My review in brief: the writers completely botched how to deal with Paul and since he’s the best part of the whole film, it will piss you off to see how quickly he’s disposed of.  The family may have a bright future as they drive off into the sunset holding hands, but you’ll be too busy looking out the back window crying as you leave Paul in the car’s dusty wake to really care.

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6 responses to “This Kids Are Alright hates your dad

  1. I haven’t seen this movie, but going from your post, it sounds like this situation is handled in the same way people handle real affairs. The other person is played off like a home-wrecker and a downright terrible person, whereas the person who cheated (and is the one who broke the commitment) is forgiven and all is happy. It might come off like they are man-hating, but I think it sounds like a pretty good interpretation of real life.

    • Just to clarify, I explain that I don’t think it’s intentionally man-hating, they just didn’t know what to do with the best character in the film.

      The way it strays from being like real life is that the kids are shown connecting better with Paul than Nic, so their devotion to her seems inexplicable.

  2. I’ve not seen this film yet–it is next in our queue–but perhaps the kids’ devotion to their mother is not so inexplicable or unlike real life, given the fact that she has been in their lives since they were born ; whereas Paul is the new guy who is essentially an unknown quantity despite the fact that he is connecting well. Like Nic, he undoubtedly has faults of his own but he’s not been around long enough for them to become evident. We all need grace from the people who love us every single day, Moms included. Even in families where relationships are positive, adolescence can be a turbulent period as teens seek greater independence and parents (hopefully) try to respond to that valid desire while still providing some still-needed guidance and protection to as-yet immature offspring. Is it possible that while this is not Nic’s finest hour as a parent, that things have been better in the past and will be better in the future as they make the transition to adult parent-young adult children? I agree that it’s not fair for Paul to be tossed out, esp. since they invited him in; he deserves a chance. However, history together as a family counts for something and even less does Nic deserve to be suddenly not -loved and tossed out. Perhaps the real shortcoming of the movie is that the writers took the easy way out instead of showing real people struggling toward relationship with one another

    • I would agree with the real world scenario that the history would have outweighed the new guy hands down, but in what the film provides us in terms of the children’s relationship with their parents, it isn’t a decline from a better relationship, but a steady flatline until the new guy shows up. Without providing this understanding of a once good relationship now on the rocks, their decision to kick this guy to the curb for his one mistake remains inexplicable. I think your last line is the most astute. Instead of having both mommies ride off into the sunset and Ruffalo’s character essentially taken out back and shot, I think they could have blended all three characters. He’s their father, they are their moms, if all three want to be involved with their kids, and of what we’ve seen of the kids they really like the new dad, they would have to show “real people struggling toward relationship[s] with one another.” Instead, as you say, “the writers took the easy way out.”

      Once you’ve seen the film maybe some of my clamor will make sense since Ruffalo’s disposal is quite abrupt.

  3. You’re giving the script/actors too much credit. Man-hating or no, it was a flimsy story pieced together with little lesbian tidbits and ephemera (that were entertaining, sure, but after the gay-porn scene, who cares?). I think it was Nic’s character (and Annette Bening’s cookie cutter performance) that marked the demise of the movie. I think we’re supposed to like Nic despite her over-controlling hangups…and if we had…eh, no. It would have still been sort of hum-drum.

  4. Christopher Grrr

    The performances are wonderful. The directors mix of misguided allegiance/feminism and what seems like either crowdpleasing or just confusing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. We are hammered with dickreferences in every Tv-show or comedy and have been so now for a decade or so,it´s a simple and very effective way to keep men down or”in their place” so they/we compensate with expensive perfumes,clothes,cars,hit the gym or anything else that help our selfasteam.

    This is partly modern feminism,part society ruled by both men and women to make us spend more money=a financial way to fuck men. So in a film that celebrates lesbian love n portrays it as a normal relationship…if she´s lesbian,exactly WHY would she go”Hello!Oh my God!”,at the sight of a big penis? Why?

    If she´s not bisexual and gay as she arrogant and silly replies to Pauls suggestion of going for it…that Chodolenko couldn´t stay away from the cockthing in a film like this is just messed up….cause Jules doesn´t stray from her sexual identity as some gay women suggest in rage”Every woman needs and deep down wants sex with a man…Disgusting!” Not the slightest. She never has an ounce of feelings for him,which one would think would be the main cause for such an experience.

    Isn´t sex with a man for a gaywoman similar to me having sex with a man? I go outside my zone which should make me nervous n uncomfortable,which Jules certainly isn´t. She LOVES getting rammed.

    So Paul,THE SEDUCED ONE,not the instigator,if you watch(the effect on the male psyche if a homosexual woman wants to screw you can not be underestimated) is basically just a sextoy for her while he develops real emotions. Paul rejecting the black chick is supposed to indicate that he´s afraid of commitment….but they´re only screwbuddies from what we learn,so that falls very flat. The suggestion from women ,that a man who doesn´t settle down or doesn´t want to,haven´t,is just immature,here becomes extremely literal(from somes point of view).

    Paul is immature in the way that he doesn´t understand the consequences of his actions and what role he is supposed to play in this very new scenario and how important his role is. He drifts through life and though ambitious,in some ways he´s like a kid. That´s why he can relate to the kids,why his spontanous sincerity,support and compliments all are true and with best intentions and he sees what the parents miss. The love for Joni might be sentimental but its real. He´s easygoing n U can find plus and minus with that part. All 5 characters are kids at a closer look.

    But when its time to sum things up,”the interloper” who got his space invaded,is just thrown away like garbage as the family takes turns in verbal bitchslaps with Jonis”I wish you had been…better.” being the very harshest. He was an idiot but Jules was worse…..and nor director or family will offer him a chance for any minor redemption. It was a lifelesson for him but a very brutal one. Nic is not to blame for anything.That was sarcasm.

    So the family sticks together,okay. But the lesbian director,who just happens to have had a child in this exact same way joins hands with the family and suggests to the audience where the blame shall be placed;Pauls journey ends when the door slams in his face. He is no longer needed in story or otherwiseand we shouldn´t care about his angst or how he will cope….and since we don´t even get a glimpse of him with 20 min. left,the male lead suddenly becomes a secondary,supporting character. Men are good for pumping out sperm and that´s it,becomes one of the films mantras. Maybe it´s Ruffalos natural charm n how he´s so relaxed n comfortable in the role that helps me sympathize with him,though his connection with Nic during dinner shows a bit too carefree attitude. Still,in the end,a good film fell apart when it was time to close the bag. And in a very disturbing way…Good post,very good. I´m witcha….

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