Of all the films from last year that I've watched, only two has stayed with me. One is David Fincher's The Social Network, and I admire it for the zing of its screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and the way it demonstrated the possibilities of cinema as an artform well-suited for groundbreaking collaboration -- the acting, the music, the cinematography, the production design, the direction are all top-notch here, and all elements come together like some cinematic magical brew that astounds. This film is our generation's equivalent of, dare I say it, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane . The other film I cannot shake off, without any doubt, is Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right.
Here is a dramedy of such compelling believability and heart, spurred by some of the greatest, most nuanced performances by any Hollywood actor last year. I came away from its screening in the University of Iowa campus with that glowing affirmation that I have just seen greatness -- and it is just a little bit too bad that not a lot of people would be watching it, given its premise. The premise is this: a lesbian couple and their two teenage children, both inseminated from the same sperm donor, deal with the upheaval of his abrupt arrival into their lives. The complications and the drama I would not elaborate in this space, but the minutae of their dilemma and the ways with which they try to seek an impasse are handled with such delicate fluency by director Cholodenko, who clearly knows what she wants to do with this story and how to frame it. There is not one false note in this film, and the necessary chemistry of its stars -- including the slowly tattering connection between Annette Bening and Julianne Moore who play the couple -- are spot-on and subtle. Mark Ruffalo pulls off his role as the gentle, if bumbling, interloper with such fine balance (he makes sloppy decisions, but we can't hate him). He does this with such convincing thoroughness that I know he will be overlooked once again in the race for acting awards this year. Why? His acting is so good, he disappears and just becomes. And Oscar, of course, seems to always bet on the showy. (Think Christian Bale in The Fighter and Natalie Portman in Black Swan.)
Ms. Moore is given a devastating monologue in the end that gives us goosebumps as she tallies the difficulties of love and marriage, but it is Ms. Bening who steals the movie. She steals it in a peculiar way, because while we are watching the film, she seems to come and go in stealth. And yet, when the movie ends, it is her performance you remember the most. Take note of the dinner scene, where she lets her obsessive-compulsive self go with a Joni Mitchell song.
Take note of the sequence right after that -- no words, just silence, and just a close-up of her face as she processes a terrible discovery.
Those few minutes of just her face is a masterclass in acting. She deserves an Oscar for that scene alone.
And yet I seem to paint the entire film as something quite serious. It is. But it is also a very, very funny film, a riot in fact. And it is that perfect juggling act between comedy and drama that makes this film feel true and feel emotionally resonant -- the way The Social Network probably does not do, even with all its technical flourish. This is a film to love, especially for what it says about modern families. And especially for the performances in it that are more than all right, they're golden.