Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Recasting 2010: "The Kids Are All Right"

Another easy choice. The role of Nicole "Nic" Allgood in Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right offers the opportunity for an interesting and difficult portrayal. I watched the film again recently, and liked it more than I remember I had in my first one or two viewings. From the start, I couldn't help but compare the setting to the movie Meryl actually shot around the same time this movie filmed, It's Complicated. It's a bit of lifestyle porn, watching folks in sunny southern California spending their days in a beautiful garden and their evenings sipping Petite Sirah over salmon and steak. I didn't realize just how many scenes in The Kids Are All Right include eating and drinking. I enjoy that. 

Nic and Jules are a lesbian couple, the parents of Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Joni has recently turned eighteen, and Laser pressures her to get in contact with their biological father, whose donated sperm their parents used from a cryobank. They end up connecting with their donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), and the "non-traditional" family begins to merge their lives in certain ways, to varying levels of comfort for all involved. 

Nic is the family's breadwinner, an OB/GYN who "likes her wine" and is a bit of a control freak. She's very wary of Paul and his presence at first, threatened by his more relaxed attitude and influence on the kids. Bening does such and amazing job in this role. She's a woman thrust into the position of having to fear the loss of her family. She wants to be supportive of her kids' interest in identifying their biological father, yet you can see she's upset by the apple cart sort of being shaken up on her micromanaged little unit. Add to the fact that, just when she starts to like him, Paul sleeps with her wife, and we get a minefield of new emotions layering her already complex character. 

I think there would be a unique feeling of betrayal if one member in a same-sex marriage happened to cheat with someone of the opposite sex--especially if both in the marriage profess themselves to be gay. One would think it shouldn't matter much. Cheating is cheating, right? And sexuality is on a spectrum, right? But there's already a huge hurdle to jump in the mere fact of feeling safe in and having your same-sex relationship validated. If you're the one being cheated on, like Nic in this situation, I expect you'd have to feel doubly isolated when considering the natural question, as Nic voices to Jules after discovering her infidelity, "Are you straight now?"

I have to include this brief scene as well because I just think it's funny.

I wish I could've found a clip with the part right before this where Laser asks his moms why they watch "gay man porn." Their reactions and attempts at explaining are just so funny and awkward, despite their best efforts to simply be transparent and honest in response to their son's perfectly natural question. Jules's reply that they often hire straight actresses in lesbian porn is a bit ironic, considering both Moore and Bening are indeed straight, portraying a gay couple. No doubt that would be met with a lot of online shouting were the film to be cast today.

This film was a an enormous critical success. It holds a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 86 on Metacritic. For its tiny budge of only $4 million, it raked in over $34 million worldwide. I have to expect that had Meryl been cast, it may have cost a tad more, but also grossed more. She was a hot commodity (and continues to be) the few years after The Devil Wears Prada and Mamma Mia! Bening was widely praised for her performance as well, winning the Golden Globe for Actress in a Musical or Comedy (which the film incidentally won as well). She also scored nominations for SAG, BAFTA and Oscar, losing all three to Natalie Portman in Black Swan. Portman's sweep of the televised awards and many of the top critics awards was one of the most dominant we've seen by a leading actress. Bening's had some amazing performances over the years, but has come up against others that are almost undeniable winners from the start. Maybe she'll have her due in a couple years when she channels marathon swimmer Diana Nyad in the upcoming biopic, Nyad.


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  2. Great movie Jeff, so well put together, breezy and very enjoyable watch!

    Annette has come up against two performances which required a lot of training and physicality - perhaps helping carrying each actress over the finish line? I remember a lot of debate afterwards over how much dancing Natalie Portman actually did herself.

    For 2011 there were several actresses I felt should have been nominated for the Oscar ahead of some of the actual nominees. Charlize Theron for "Young Adult" and Tilda Swinton for "We Need To Talk About Kevin", in particular.

    I still feel Meryl gave the performance of the year and deserved her win as Margaret Thatcher. I just wish "The Iron Lady" had a more insightful writer and more experienced director, it could have really been much improved.

    In my ideal filmography, The Iron Lady would have been a miniseries, giving more time to explore one of the most interesting political biographies.

    I enjoyed "RED", the action comedy with Helen Mirren and others, I was considering this for my 2011 pick. I would have loved to see Meryl navigate "We Need To Talk About Kevin", but I do think she would not be the correct choice, age wise.

    What I would lived to have seen was Meryl in an extended miniseries of "Olive Kitteridge". I read the book a few months ago and really fell for Olive, the tough but suffering heroine of New England. In 2014 Frances McDormand was terrific as the character but this will be my 2011 recasting choice, as the book was published in 2008.

    1. Yeah, I thought about We Need To Talk About Kevin. I watched it for the first time last year and really didn't like it. I thought I was going to love it...sort of psychological thriller, and the fact that Swinton's performance was so lauded. But it was just awful to watch. There's never any pay off or even the slightest redemptive aspect of the movie. It's just her suffering endlessly.

      Totally agree about The Iron Lady comments. And have you yet to see Frances McDorman in Olive Kitteridge, Charlie? If not, I highly recommend it. I haven't read the book so not sure if that would make it worse or better, but the limted series is fantastic. Good pick.

    2. Not yet Jeff but I've ordered it! I've read great things and I really admire Frances McDormand's talent and her ability to find and produce good material for herself when the offers dried up.

      I watched an interview with her where they bemoaned that a lot had to be trimmed to make it fit and stay on budget. I thought perhaps Meryl could have got them to increase the episode run so we get more of the 13 stories.

  3. Yep, love it. Stumped for 2011, and I agree about the mini-series idea for 'The Iron Lady'.

  4. I do think we are at a time that it will be a huge challenge to bring any real life conservative political figure to screen. A lot of Brits on twitter do come after Gillian Anderson for her neutral perspective.

    1. People were complaining about this with "The Iron Lady" at the time, but it still made a lot at the box office. There is an audience for intelligent biographies.