the right to marry and all that entails

No, this isn’t about Prop 8. Not really. I saw the indie dromedary (I refuse to say “dramedy”) The Kids Are All Right this weekend, and Prop 8- the California law against gay marriage- just happened to be overturned by a higher court. Good timing, and a very good movie.Written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko, it stars Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a lesbian couple whose children turn 18, and want to find their biological father. He turns out to be Mark Ruffalo, who I last saw in the excellent quirky caper The Brothers Bloom. Here he’s a scruffy, motorcycle riding free spirit who runs a small organic farm, and a small restaurant from what he grows there. He looks like Toecutter from Mad Max, and yes, he can lick his eyebrows clean.

Julianne and Annette are Nic and Jules, and they’ve been a couple long enough to have a 15 year old son and an 18 year old daughter, who is on the verge of leaving for college. This life change, and the urging of her brother, spur the young Joni to find the sperm donor who gave her and her brother his set of chromosomes. She’s played by the talented young Mia Wasikowska, best known as Alice in Tim Burton’s latest. Her brother is Laser, who’s not as focused as his name would suggest. He’s hanging out with a troublesome young neighbor and his mothers know something is wrong, but not what. Together they make an altogether normal family, with Annette Bening’s Nic as a practical E.R. surgeon who brings home the bacon and likes order; Julianne’s Jules is the more free-spirited one who’s starting yet another new business, this time landscape design. Together, they are nurturing parents who have the same faults and foibles as any others, despite forming a cohesive unit that the kids call “Moms.”

When Joni finds her their biological father, things are shaken up without the expected drama of misunderstanding and childish jealousy. Of course, Moms are a little upset and surprised, considering the obvious: weren’t we enough? Do the kids need a father? But this isn’t a single parent household, where one has been either abandoned the kids or been exiled from seeing them. That’s where the hurt comes from, when a father is absent; not from his nonexistence, but from his rejection. So as the title tells us, the kids are all right, but the story that unfolds from Mark Ruffalo’s insertion into their family unit- in more ways than one- is enjoyable and natural. Cholodenko does a great job in keeping her cards close to her chest and keeping the zones a warm shade of gray. Mistakes are made, but as Closer (full review)- one of my favorite love-gone-wrong films- reminds us, love is about compromise.

There’s plenty of situational humor and the characters are deeply detailed. Bening’s Nicky resembles the director, Emma Thompson, and even Dame Judi Dench when she gets some shocking news; I’ve loved Bening since The Grifters (full review) and this is one of her finest roles. Despite her and Julianne Moore both being instantly recognizable leading ladies, they embody their characters and we see them as Nicky and Jules. Moore retains a hint of her famous vulnerability, with a fiery independence; whether she’s in cargo shorts and hiking boots looking like a turn of the century explorer, settling back on her hips to try to look natural, when she knows she’s a bit over her head; or passionately pouncing into bed looking quite like a leopardess, with all those freckles. Cholodenko gives us plenty of close-ups and we see every crow’s foot, showing us real women instead of airbrushed icons. Even scruffy Ruffalo always looks like he ought to be hosed down, even when he’s got a suit and glasses on.

What I think I liked most was that the movie surprised me with its subtlety. It has no agenda, it doesn’t set out to prove that a lesbian couple can raise well-adjusted children. If you need to be convinced of that, get out more. It doesn’t argue that you need or don’t need a father; Ruffalo brings good and bad into the family circle. Laser doesn’t suddenly bond with this man and forget fifteen years of Moms, as we might expect from a Hollywood tale, but “Dad,” who really was a sperm donor in this case, does help the kid find the focus he needs. And nothing is made of it. He could have gotten the insight he needed from the right neighbor, or handyman. It makes for an entertaining evening, with some exciting romance that made it a good couples movie for me and Firecracker, leading to plenty of conversation over Red Mango afterward. It introduces us to characters we regret letting go, when the credits roll. And for once, we get a story about gays or lesbians that treats them just like everybody else.

4 hot freckled redhead mommas out of 5

© 2010 Tommy Salami

playing catch-up

I missed a lot of movies in 2009 and I’m playing catch-up. Here are some worth seeing:

Milky brought this one over; I’d wanted to see it, but he got it first. This is perhaps one of the best science fiction films of the last decade. Written and directed by Duncan Jones, it tells the story of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell, Choke) an astronaut who works for Lunar Corp, managing their mining operations on the lunar surface. It of course recalls 2001 but also the ’70s cult classic Silent Running, because he is alone with his robot Gerty on the barren moon. The movie has a fantastic tone of solitude and agoraphobia; Sam has a 3 year contract, but seems to be going a little stir crazy. He starts seeing things; or does he? Is the man on the moon not alone? It’s a great story, and I won’t spoil it for you. This one’s a winner, and Rockwell deserves a nomination for his role. Milky and I both give it:

5 bare-assed moons out of 5.

Julie & Julia
Nora Ephron is hit or miss with me; I loved When Harry Met Sally… but much of her recent work has felt formulaic, so I skipped Julie & Julia in theaters last year when reviews felt that one half of the film was lackluster. And it is, but only compared to the other half. As a whole, the film is quite enjoyable and doesn’t feel 2 hours long. As a food blogger, I should have given this movie more respect. Amy Adams plays the food blogger, who decides to cook every recipe in Julia’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking to bring some meaning to her life. She works for the 9/11 recovery office, and feels helpless as she tries to assist people whose lives were thrown asunder by the attacks. Thankfully, the story is intertwined with Julia Child’s life in France, where after working as a file clerk for the O.S.S. in WW2, she feels empty returning to home life. But she loves French cooking, so she learns how to cook- a decidedly male profession at the time- and then decides she has to introduce America to it. We know her story is a success, but the script manages to convey just how unlikely that was.

Much has been said of Streep’s excellent portrayal, which goes beyond impersonation and makes a lively character of the younger Julia Child based on her memoirs. She says things we would never expect, comparing a hot cannelloni to a stiff cock. (Remind me to read her memoirs –ed.) Stanley Tucci is also perfect as her loving and supportive husband, showing the man’s true range- he’s getting a lot of respect for playing a twisted murderer in The Lovely Bones, but this role shouldn’t be overlooked. Contrast him with Julie’s husband, who seems to be suffering her obsession with cooking. What the film lacks is a love of food, and a bit too much time spent on the mundane and self-absorbed act of blogging. It might be fun to read, but if you watched me type this stuff or fiddle with layouts, you’d rather watch paint dry; and we’re subjected to too much of it, even if it’s only a little. Amy Adams does what she can with the Julie character, but there’s not enough there; it was brave, positioning herself across from Meryl Streep, but unfortunately, she’s not ready yet. If this had been all about Julia Child, it could have been fantastic.

3.5 slabs of butter out of 5

The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Andersen does it again. I’m not his biggest fan, but I admire his work, and he makes a wonderful story for both children and adults here. As much as I liked Where the Wild Things Are (full review) I think this is even better. It’s not as wacky as a Wallace & Gromit cartoon, but the stop-motion fuzzy figures are easily as emotive and endearing. And the story works for kids and adults, generating chuckles and grins from all directions, without trying too hard. I had a blast, and Firecracker did too. Like Andersen’s live action films, every moment has little details, the characters all have their little motivations and issues, but it’s all kept lively and fun.

5 Fox Force 5’s out of 5.

Sherlock Holmes
I had reservations about Guy Ritchie turning the world’s most famous detective into an action hero, but if you put expectations aside, this is a blast. Sure, it’s more like Young Sherlock Holmes– complete with cultists operating in the middle of London- but it grabs you early on, introducing Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes the bare-knuckle pugilist. He’s excellent as usual, toning down his twitchy mannerisms and slipping into Sherlock’s pipe and muttonchops with ease. Jude Law is Watson, Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky) has a delightful role as the harried police chief who needs the duo’s deductive powers, and the plot- revolving around an Aleister Crowley-esque magician with plans for Parliament- has twists and turns, but in the end, unravels to rational deduction, as it should. The weak spot is Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, who just doesn’t seem wily enough to be the only person to outwit Holmes. There’s plenty of good fun with set pieces in a shipyard, and a hulking giant that the duo bests with cattle prods and ju jitsu. Looking forward to the inevitable sequel, hoping someone says “no shit, Sherlock.”

4 deductions out of 5

A Single Man
Saw this with Firecracker because it is a rare starring role for Colin Firth in a film of substance, when he’s languished a bit lately. Set in the early ’60s, he plays a British college professor in California, suffering the loss of his lover of 16 years. During a time of red-baiting and nuclear paranoia, he contemplates suicide after losing the love of his life, because nothing else seems to matter. He sees minute details, like his students’ eyes glazing over; he feels like he is drowning, in a repetitive art-house sequence where he flails underwater naked in a back-lit swimming pool. Directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, the film looks beautiful, with stunning sets and some spectacular shots, making 1963 feel even more real and alive than a “Mad Men” episode. However, the story lacks focus and the film rests on the shoulders of Firth’s excellent performance. When a recognizable actor disappears into a role without extensive make-up, it is worthy of note. Also memorable is Julianne Moore as his friend Charlie, looking a bit haggard but also building a fully fleshed character with motives of her own. I felt the ending was a bit of a cop-out, perhaps cautionary, but it’s an enjoyable if morose character study of an invisible man suffering the loss of a love that at the time, still dared not speak its name. Expect an Oscar nom for Firth.

3.5 Calvin Klein commercials out of 5