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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.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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