27 September 2010

City Island/ The Kids Are All Right

I saw The Kids Are All Right awhile back and never wrote about it, but was inspired to return to it because in a way, it belongs in the same category as City Island - both are basically mainstream, fairly standard "wacky family" movies, except they're not, because mainstream movies these days are such crap. So both of them mostly played at "artsy" theatres, despite the fact that they're not particularly challenging or highbrow. They're just a little more candid and open about certain things that "mainstream" America is prudish about. Of the two, I actually liked City Island a lot more - it's a clever, sweet movie, and well constructed. The Kids Are all Right was a little harder for me to love, because of the politics involved. But we'll return to that.

City Island is a movie about secrets. It stars Andy Garcia as a correctional officer who's covertly enrolled in an acting class (predictably leading his wife to suspect that he's having an affair). At the opening of the film, he's just discovered his son is in jail, but can be freed on the responsibility of a family member - so he brings him home, but of course, without revealing their connection. Everyone in the movie has a secret, be it big or small, and of course, the work of the movie is to ultimately bring them out into the open or somehow resolve them. It's pretty predictable, but nonetheless quite enjoyable. It's also pleasantly restrained in its drama, resisting the impulse to veer into catastrophe, ultimately espousing a kind of live-and-let-live mentality. This includes the seemingly "devious" proclivities of its cast, and in that, it comes to seem like a progressive or liberatory work, though it's a sad state of affairs that one would even think of it that way. It's not great, but it's fun and has plenty of laughs, a very pleasant way to spend an evening.

The Kids Are All Right is a little touchier, because there's the baggage of being an indie movie about a lesbian couple and their kids that's clamouring for mainstream attention in a moment when gay marriage is such a fraught issue. So of course, you can't help but be disappointed that one of the women has a fling with a guy - I respect the reviews that celebrate the film's fluid depiction of sexuality, and I agree with them to a great extent, but that doesn't stop me from rolling my eyes and kind of wishing it didn't go down that way. More than that though, I was annoyed by the fact that the lesbian sex scenes in the movie were SO unappealing, and the hetero ones were so hot. I understand that it's also a married/illicit sex difference, and that given how hypersexualized girl-on-girl action is anyhow, it's arguably a smart move to make it seem mundane and downright sterile, but still. I also would've liked Annette Bening's character to be a little more likeable - she was by the end of the movie, but man, she's an uptight, hypercontrolling jerk for most of the film.
I don't, however, begrudge the movie it's strictly normative ideology when it comes to the family unit. In a way, I like that the movie kind of writes off any possibility for a healthy alternative family structure, and thereby slyly smuggles lesbian couples into the normative family category (where they belong). Politically speaking, I can understand the utility of a seemingly extreme group professing its conservative impulses. But I wouldn't have minded if the movie made it a little more clear that the ultimate resolution it came to was a concrete, individual one, not a template. I dunno.
In any case, in terms of all the buzz about the movie - overrated. It's not bad, it definitely had its charm and there were a lot of things I liked about it. It's unfortunate that my opinion of it was so strongly tinted by the political context, because there are a lot of aspects of general family dynamics that were well captured.

Still, of the two, I'd rather watch City Island again.

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