Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Kids are Alright and the Milwaukee Film Festival is even better!

At least if you go by the size of the audience it is. I guess it’s a good problem to have, though I’m not on the inside of Milwaukee Film and know little about the logistics of scheduling and less about their bottom line. What I do know is that lots of people went to the Oriental Theater Friday evening to see the festival offerings and many could not get in to see what they came for. Lynn and I went there to see Baraboo only to find ourselves at the tail end of a long rush line of people hoping that those who had the foresight to buy advance tickets wouldn’t show up to claim their seats.

Our hectic lives make it difficult to plan ahead and in the many previous years of the festival we had never been shut out of a movie before. I hope this means success for the festival. Perhaps it means they needed to book a larger venue and if they had they’d have sold more tickets.

We ended up skipping the long, futile line and seeing the one non-festival moving left playing at the Oriental, The Kids are Alright. More evidence that someone hadn’t planned the Oriental’s screening schedule with sufficient prescience came as we entered and found ourselves among eight or ten people enjoying the pre-movie organ music as it echoed in the huge, ornate, empty theater. We also discovered that this movie deserved a larger audience!

On one level, The Kids are Alright is a pretty standard comedy about two parents trying to raise two teenagers. The plot revolves around the kids’ secret decision to locate the man who had donated sperm to their mothers eighteen and fifteen years ago respectively. The story moves along a fairly predictable trajectory that includes a clandestine meeting, discovery, recriminations, jealousy, sexual shenanigans, guilt, etc. There are a couple twists I won’t reveal. A relationship-driven story like this depends upon the actors’ abilities to create believable characters and the entire ensemble is seamless. There’s the uptight, over-involved breadwinning parent, the insecure, lassez-faire stay-at-home parent, the introverted, overachieving high school graduate ambivalent about leaving the nest, and the emotionally withdrawn star athlete. Then there’s the organic food-growing, motorcycle-riding, happy-go-lucky sperm donor who drives a wedge into the familial mix with iconoclastic charm. I write this as if they’re all stereotypes, but they don’t come across that way because of the exceptional acting and honest depiction of family interactions. Annette Benning’s performance as the overwrought, overprotective doctor is especially engaging.

The thing that separates The Kids are Alright from similar stories is the fact that it is all happening to a family with two lesbian parents, played with intelligence, compassion, and gritty realism by Benning and Julianne Moore. But what is most remarkable, I think, is how completely matter-of-fact this is. How refreshing to see a story of such unself-conscious normality! Let’s hope life in the U.S. can imitate art because the kids are alright.

If you want to read more reviews of this highly rated film, go to Rottentomatoes.

To learn more about the Milwaukee Film Festival, go to Milwaukee Film.

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