November 17, 2010 -- This is one of those bittersweet movies that is, by turns, both funny and sad. The centerpiece of the story is a gay marriage between two aging lesbians, Nic and Jules (played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, respectively) and their children, Joni (played by Mia Wasikowska of the TV show “In Treatment”) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson of “Journey to the Center of the Earth”). This family is none to stable to begin with and starts to come apart at the seams when a new element is added, Paul (Mark Ruffalo of “Zodiac”). Paul is the sperm donor who indirectly fathered Joni and Laser (which sounds like a name that belongs in an action movie).
Laser is curious about the sperm donor and talks his sister, Joni, who is 18 into calling the sperm bank to ask about contacting the donor, unbeknownst to their moms, each of whom gave birth to one of their two children. Laser soon loses interest, but Joni decides to visit Paul some more. Paul is very different from Joni's moms. He is a college dropout who owns his own business and is unmarried. He is somewhat of a free spirit who likes to ride a motorcycle. Laser senses that Paul is a little to defensive about his lack of education and a little too uncritical about his life choices. When Paul meets the kids he realizes that he has missed out on having his own family and he tries to latch onto one that is already formed, without doing the heavy lifting that is required to raise one's own family.
When Nic and Jules learn that their kids have been visiting Paul, they decide to visit him as well. Nic, a doctor, is one of those type A personalities who needs to be in charge of everything all the time. Paul refuses to be managed by her. Jules, on the other hand, is attracted to Paul. She has grown tired of Nic's controlling nature, Nic's demands, Nic's criticisms of her. Paul, on the other hand, is both laid back and undemanding. The situation soon erupts into a full-scale crisis which ends rather unhappily for all concerned. It is not helped at all by Nic's drinking problem.
Without any humor in the story, this would be a very sad story about a destructive mix of personalities causing havoc to a family. But the film does have a lot of humor in it. I have not laughed this much during any other movie I've seen this year, including straight comedies. Strong characters and good acting are what make both the comedy and the sorrow of this film work. The story is also very well written. This is one gay marriage that isn't perfect. It is rocky. I think the idea here is to convey the idea that any successful marriage is hard work and is full of compromises. The fact that this is a gay marriage is not supposed to make it any different than a traditional marriage, but it clearly is, especially for Joni, who seems to be having some problems dealing with her own sexual identity. The problems this family has, for the most part, however, are problems any family can have, personalities that don't mesh well, substance abuse, infidelity, income inequality, teenage rebellion, etc. Both the comedy and the drama of the story work so well because it shows us situations and feelings we are all very familiar with. This film rates a B+.
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