Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pop culturally, 1999 was a watershed year for me.  Not only did I work in a multiplex where I consumed more than ever before, but it was a fine, fine year of releases.  I mean, Fight Club, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Election, But I'm a Cheerleader, All About My Mother --- I could go on.

American Beauty was 1999's best, for certain.  As a closeted and decidedly emotive teenage, I could get swept-up in the "beauty" of a plastic bag floating around, and that movie really did it for me.  Top to bottom, it was flawless: Alan Ball's script, Sam Mendes' direction, Wes Bentley's hot, hot face.  And Annette Bening.  Beautiful, husky-voiced, commanding Annette Bening.  Until that point, I'd never been so affected by a film performance - Her unhinged bitchiness, her broken heart, her sassy quips.  Her singing "Don't Rain on My Parade" in the car.  Her breakdown in the closet.  Part of me thinks back on that movie and forgets Carolyn Burnham isn't a real person, not a neighbour I used to chit-chat with, or a snarky teacher I'd gossip with after class.  But she lives there, in my brain, as if she really exists.  

And while Bening has done plenty since, nothing has hit as hard as her role in the Sundance-darling-cum-wide release The Kids Are All Right.  Tell me you've seen it.  No?  Get out of here.  Leave right now.  Find an empty little theatre and watch it alone on your crankiest day; let its melancholy sink into your bones and face and brain.

In Lisa Cholodenko's (Laurel Canyon) newest, Julianne Moore and Bening play a married couple with two teenage kids.  They're yuppies with a fantastic house in California.  They're all dinner parties, new-age parenting, and banter.  The kids are clever and thoughtful and well-adjusted.  Until they decide to meet their biological sperm-donor-father, everything has been going swimmingly.  (Mark Ruffalo has impressed critics, though he was the single weak link for me.  Too Tony-Danza-gone-dramatic, or something.  He was smirky and played it just a little too doe-eyed.)

But it's the kind of movie I love.  Plodding and quiet, a simple exploration of a time in the lives of some humans.  It's the course of several weeks or a couple of months, the tiny interactions and the little bombs.  It's Moore and Bening at their best. It's people you feel like you know, people you've met at work or bumped into at the market.  A study in the twenty-first century family, it's aggressively honest and expertly nuanced.  At once a coming-of-age story and a look into modern marriage, it's the kind of movie that unsettles your stomach and burrows inside.  It stays with you.  And it makes you want to use the words "sterling" and "pitch-perfect".  

(I didn't even get into the sterling set-design and beautifully subtle costuming.  Suffice it to say, they were pitch-perfect.)


  1. Have never heard of this movie - looks like I will have to watch it now. Sounds great.

  2. This is on my must-see list!

    I'm glad to hear you liked it! Tony Danza!? eh-oh, oh-eh! I love Mark Ruffalo, I hope I can wipe that comparison out of my mind - I may never look at him the same ;)

  3. Oh, shit, Christine - sorry to plant that seed.

  4. been on my list...now, to only find a sitter.
    mark ruffalo...tony danza?!?!?! too funny!

  5. I saw American Beauty alone in the theater. I was 17 years old and it was so liberating to bawl, all by myself, in lonely theater.

    I cannot wait to see The Kids Are Alright. Of course, it's not even playing where I'm at yet.

  6. I just made plans to go see this movie tomorrow night with my husband. I've so been looking forward to seeing it.
    Annette Bening in American Beauty was a brilliant performance: Agreed!

  7. Kathleen - I was 17 too! I didn't know we're the same age! As I said, I worked in a movie theatre, so I'd see certain parts of movies dozens and dozens and dozens of times. Imagine my delight when Moulin Rouge was out and I could see those songs over and over!

    I swear I've seen Annette Bening say the word "Joyless?" a thousand times. She's so good.

  8. Just missed a screening at the Royal, and am still kicking myself (the roommate has been recommending this film for weeks).

    "Plodding and quiet, a simple exploration of a time in the lives of some humans." - beautiful. Once again, you've encapsulated an idea with a simple eloquence I wish I'd managed.

  9. *sigh* American Beauty is one of my all-time favorites. And I totally agree about her breakdown in the closet. My favorite funny part is when she screams, "This is NOT a marriage!"

    I can't wait to see this movie. Thanks for the review.

  10. We saw it on the weekend. What a stunning film. Moore has always been my favourite actress- especially in Magnolia. Benning was amazing.