Sunday 17 December 2017

Right-on comedy delivers

reviews: the kids are More than all right but landis film is a Grave Error

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT Drama. Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Cert 15A

ONE could be forgiven for thinking that the great Monty Python tune Every Sperm is Sacred suddenly started popping up when studio executives set their iPods to shuffle some time last year given that we've had no fewer than three movies with sperm donation as their central theme over the past few months.

First up was the dreadful Jennifer Lopez vehicle The Back-Up Plan, quickly followed by The Switch, which Jennifer Aniston ostensibly toplined although it really played out more as a gentle and reasonably likable variant of About a Boy, with a winning central performance from Jason Bateman. Here though, the process provides the focus for a movie which clearly telegraphs the fact that it's a 'serious' movie with aspirations towards Oscar recognition, not least in the screenwriting and acting categories.

Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play Nic and Jules, a lesbian couple who've been together for just over two decades and have had one child each, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), by the same sperm donor. Nic is very much the controlling influence in the house despite her New Agey, 'let's all sit down and discuss what's the best thing to do' approach to decision- making.

The portrait of a seemingly ideal household without a dominant male influence comes across somewhat strongly in the early stages of the film, (God help the unfortunate readers of the Irish Times if John Waters ever gets to see this), and the pointy-headed feminists of both genders who populate RTE'S The View will adore the set-up, but it's not long before there's trouble in paradise.

Prompted by Laser, who's rather understandably somewhat tetchy given that he's a typical 16-year-old bloke living in an environment so right-on it could have been designed by a committee of Virago's most trenchant authors, Joni goes behind Nic's back and makes contact with the man whose donated sperm brought them into the world.

Played with considerable charm by Mark Ruffalo, Paul is initially surprised when contacted but soon bonds with his offspring, particularly Laser, who at last has a father figure in his life, and this is where the meat of the drama lies. Despite Paul's winning personality and the fact that he's a successful organic farmer and restaurateur, Nic's hackles are raised as she sees her position as head of the household come under threat, with the children smitten by this new influence in their lives and Jules spending time at his house landscaping his overgrown garden.

Bening does a really wonderful job here as Nic, playing an initially unlikeable character, who at one point has the nerve to say of Paul "He seems very pleased with himself" when we've just endured almost 30 minutes of her behaving like the smuggest lesbian on the planet. Her reaction to someone she perceives to be an intruder becomes more understandable on reflection and her scenes at a dinner in Paul's house show an actress at the top of her game.

Julianne Moore's character is less complex but she plays it to the hilt, while Ruffalo is thoroughly believable. There are some untidy elements in the story (a sub-plot involving Laser and a boorish schoolfriend peters out as if someone simply forgot about it in the final edit) and at times the dialogue is scarcely believable (do real people actually say things like 'Our relationship is pro-active'?) but despite its faults The Kids Are All Right is a decent enough portrait of a marriage and family, albeit an unconventional one, under pressure and dealing with it as best they can. HHHNN

burke and hare Comedy. Starring Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Jessica Hynes and Tom Wilkin Directed by John Landis. Cert 15A

FOR movie fans of a certain age, the news that John Landis was back behind the camera for the first time in 12 years was the cause of no little excitement.

In his prime, Landis gave us National Lampoon's Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London and Trading Places, three of which are cult classics, but enthusiasm for his return to the director's chair has to be tempered by the fact that those movies were made the guts of 30 years ago and his most recent output featured downright bad movies like Blues Brothers 2000 and Susan's Plan, his last film.

And, sad to say, he should have thought long and hard before returning to action with this botched and ill-conceived comedy.

For starters, the story of William Burke and William Hare, two Irish graverobbers who graduated to murder in order to supply cadavers to medical colleges in Edinburgh in the late 1820s, is a fascinating and grisly tale, which would suit a dark and serious treatment, yet here what we effectively have is Carry on Graverobbing.

Landis has two decent actors in the central roles in Pegg and Serkis but the script is so poor and the pacing so jittery (I suspect that this was hacked to pieces in the editing suite) that their efforts are wasted. An ill-conceived, badly-executed fiasco from start to finish. HHNNN

the hunter Drama. Starring Mitra Hajjar, Rafi Pitts, Ali Nicksaulat. Directed by John Landis. Cert 15A

THE grim reality of life under Iranian President Ahmidinejad's repressive regime is the subject of the latest film from director Rafi Pitts, who himself takes the lead role as Ali, a man whose wife and daughter are shot by police, who fired into the crowd at a demonstration. Certainly conveys the relentless pressure of living under an authoritarian government. HHHNN

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