Levy’s Anatomy: Second Look at Movies

Launching a new column, second look at movies

Many readers have asked me, as a champion of indie and gay cinema, why my review of Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right,“ is positive but not rave, and why the picture is not on my Ten Best List
The movie, released by Focus Features in July, as counter-programming to Hollywood’s top guns, has received mostly positive reviews. The critical score, according to Rotten Tomatoes, is 94 percent, which is rather high.
The commercial appeal of the film was also satisfying, $21 million domestically, if not spectacular. The picture played well in urban centers but did not really penetrate into the American heartland.
Here is what I wrote back in June, when I graded “Kids Are All Right” as a B+ picture: Cholodenko’s third and most accessible feature to date, is anenjoyable, timely screwball comedy, which revitalizes gay cinema by borrowing conventions from Hollywood’s old format and formulas.
As a follow-up to “LaurelCanyon,” which, among other achievements, was the first film to show Frances (“Fargo”) McDormand as sexy and desirable, the new movie is the broadest in potential appeal. There’s something for everybody in it.  As such, it should serve as the helmer’s calling card for making upscale indie pictures and perhaps even entry into mainstream Hollywood.
On a second viewing, the weaknesses of the film are even more apparent. Here are my reasons as to why, for me, the film fails to achieve greatness.
  1. The movie is too obvious and insistent in its message that basically there are no differences between gay marriages and straight ones.
  2.  The movie is too broad and its humor is often too facile, perhaps a result of trying to conform to the dictates of the Hollywood screwball comedy genre.
  3.  The plotting, various crises that the characters go through, major and minor, is too contrived and often schematic.
  4.  The technical execution and visual style leave much to be desired (This could be a function of the modest budget).
  5.  The mise-en-scene and major dialogue scenes lack real wit and subtlety.
  6.  The movie is too pleased—too self-congratulatory—with its own progressive sexual politics.
  7.  If the movie came out five years ago, my review would have been kinder, but released in 2010, it lags behind the mores of our times. 
  8. At the end, there is not much for liberal, open-minded viewers to do but give the closed-ended film their nod of approval.