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“The Kids Are All Right,” But Their Parents Might Need Some Help

“The Kids Are All Right,” But Their Parents Might Need Some Help (photo)

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Aside from the fact that they’re lesbians, “The Kids Are All Right” assures us, Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) are exactly like any other middle-class, middle-aged couple. Nic is a doctor, while Jules has stayed at home to raise the kids — Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), both in high school — and try out of a series of so far unsuccessful careers.

Sure, the passion’s not what it used to be, and they’ve each got their resentments — Nic can be uptight and controlling, Jules flaky and needy — plus, their daughter and son are growing into sometimes difficult adults with minds of their own. Still, things are pretty good, and the four are in all ways but the obvious one a standard nuclear family, until their world’s thrown off its axis by the unexpected addition of Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the previously anonymous sperm donor who is the children’s biological father.

Given how hot-button a topic gay marriage remains, it’s understandable that co-writer/director Lisa Cholodenko would want to place the normality of Nic and Jules’ domestic life front and center: A family is a family, regardless of the parents’ sexuality. But the consequence of that fact is that whatever the gender arrangement, Jules and Nic’s marriage problems aren’t any more interesting than, and can be just as exasperating as, those of any other bourgeois Los Angeles clan.

07082010_kidsareallright3.jpgThe two squabble about Laser’s burnout best friend, whether Nic’s love of wine is really just a love of drinking and if Jules is ever going to make something of her latest endeavor, an environmentally friendly landscaping business. They use words like “proactive” and, in the interest of openness, overshare with their son about their porn choices. “The Kids Are All Right” is adamantly not a “gay film,” downplaying the importance of its characters’ sexuality — but, perversely, it’s the complexities of that sexuality that make it an intriguing, tolerable comedy.

Joni turns 18, and at her brother’s urging requests contact information for their donor from the sperm bank. That his “stuff” was ever put to use comes as news to Paul, but he’s game to meet with his newfound offspring. He’s game for just about anything — a stylishly scruffy, almost terminally laid back bachelor, Paul has the marshmallowy vibe of someone whose life has glided along without requiring the investment of any effort. He owns a local-food restaurant, a motorcycle and a house in the hills, and is involved, in a no-strings-attached fashion, with his beautiful business partner (Yaya DaCosta, late of “America’s Next Top Model”).

Paul’s life is so unfettered that the idea that he’s fathered children, even in the most removed way, provides him with a welcome solidity and opportunity for introspection — he’s in his 40s, but has been living like he’s in his 20s, and it turns out he likes Joni and Laser, and they take to him.

07082010_kidsareallright2.jpgWhile the kids at first keep their relationship with Paul a secret, eventually “the moms” find out, and he’s grudgingly invited over to lunch, though Nic worries that Paul’s presence is a sign that she and Jules have been inadequate as parents.

But there’s no denying biology, and the fact is that while Nic and Jules are in so many ways traditional, they needed a little outside assistance to conceive their children, and those children are now curious about the man with whom they share half of their genetic material.

Less expected is the not-so-platonic pull that connection exerts on Jules, to whom Paul offers a much-needed gig shaping up his overgrown backyard. “I just keep seeing my kids’ expressions in your face,” she says. Paul flirts in part because of the thrill of the forbidden. For Jules, it’s because she feels distant from and unappreciated by Nic, but also, you suspect, because it somehow feels a little less like cheating to become involved with someone who’s already involved, in a small but essential way, with her family.

The “The Kids Are All Right”‘s performances are great across the board, with Bening, Moore and Ruffalo expertly embodying distillations of the kinds of roles they each play best — brittle, scattered and charmingly unreliable, respectively. Ruffalo, in particular, is so genial that I felt caught short when the film turned on him.

07082010_kidsareallright6.jpgWhile over at dinner, Paul toasts “to an unconventional family,” but “The Kids Are All Right” turns out to not share those feelings of boho inclusiveness. For a film that’s so warm, both emotionally and visually — D.P. Igor Jadue-Lillo makes Los Angeles look like a golden-hued Shangri-la of sun-dappled streets and backyard gazebos — “The Kids Are All Right” turns out to be strikingly black and white in its embrace of straightforward family values.

And so Paul is an intruder and a usurper, and this isn’t actually a story of a love triangle but of a troubled marriage, and lesbians can have just as conventional a family as anyone else. It’s certainly not a message I begrudge, but it does seem a little simpler than the richer, more nuanced portraits that have preceded it deserve.

“The Kids Are All Right” opens in limited release July 9th.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.