Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Written by: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
Company: Focus Features
Runtime: 106 minutes
The film is about a lesbian couple, Jules and Nic, who must react smartly after their children, Joni and Laser, decided to meet their biological father and their moms’ sperm donor, Paul. Nic is quite irritated by the effects of Paul to her children. Little to her knowledge that her partner Jules is having a sexual affair with Paul.
Okay. I won’t keep things long. I’d be much more direct to the point this time.
The direction was good. It was able to set a pace compatible for the flow of events and emotions that the screenplay carries. The film never dragged. It was a story told with breezy pacing that you just cannot get uninvolved in the story because the direction was so intelligent that it keeps the viewers hooked even in the film’s lesser moments. It was also very gentle in handling the issues of the screenplay. It did not try to give a sudden rush or unnecessary burst of controversy to sprinkle some noise in the proceedings. No, it just tells the story straight and direct-to-the-point. No sugarcoating or glossing whatsoever – just the soul of the story. The direction directs the story with an ample amount of control and at the same time, freedom. And I’m telling you – the direction here is much better than of most indie films that you see. This is competent work. One scene that impresses me a lot is the scene where the two mothers confront Laser on a mistaken issue. It’s such a dangerous scene because there is a serious issue hanging on one end, and yet, they still have this joke running in that scene to cover, but the direction was able to gracefully balance the elements of filmmaking in that specific scene that it’s seriously one of the most hilarious scenes in recent memory.
The screenplay has a lesser achievement than the direction, but it does not mean that it’s bad – just not to special. Of course, it made some efforts to create some spark on the topical issue of artificial insemination and its effects on a family, but I didn’t care that much on it. What I root for in this screenplay are the ‘human scenes’ – those scenes presenting the characters not starting to raise an issue, but it’s those scenes where they already react to the scenario. It’s in those scenes where we see the best of the screenplay because it’s the scenes where we actually see the humanity and reality of these characters. They are not just written to react as the screenplay says, but they appear to be actually from real life.
Of course, there are moments when I didn’t care that much to what’s happening, and those scenes are the only weaknesses of the screenplay. Joni’s relationship with her perverted friend and her naive crush represents the least interesting segments of this multi-layered story. I understand that it was needed to humanize the character of Joni, but I think it could have been written better.
There’s no use in talking about the technical aspects of this film, but I’ll give a very quick run of ideas. Cinematography was nothing special. Editing was able to juice out the better parts of the film with firm control with those cuts. Sound is also good, but there are not so much to be said about it. Music was okay in setting the mood in every scene, though some music fragments left me indifferent. Costume was much better that you might think.
There you go. And it’s time for the acting.
Annette Bening is flawless as Nic. She plays the character with a perfect mix of toughness, superiority, and fragility, that it may look like an easy role to play, but actually, it’s not. Bening understood that Nic is not just a half in this lesbian couple – she is the guy. She is tough, and Bening’s signature style of acting totally fits her character. The frigid nature of the character in the start is a big challenge for Bening because she needs to be the most indifferent character in the film in terms of reception to the likable character of Paul, but he is the one we should depend on for almost the entirety of the film, and while watching, I came to a realization that she’s my favorite character in this film.
She perfectly keeps authority in the ground while she also presents a very approachable character. She is someone you think is kind, but she’s no nonsense. She would not let anything bad happen to her family. You can feel that, like she is the one holding this big shield to protect her family. She does not have much time to do this as the film as her screentime suggests, but Bening, with her intelligence, did not let that discount what she could do in this film.
What followed subtlety is intensity. Right from that moment when she becomes wary of Paul’s influence to her family, she panics because it’s her family. She owns every second of her screentime even if she’s not the real focus of the story, and not because she’s a scene-stealer, but her screen presence is so strong that she is so hard to ignore. Her best scenes came in pair – her silent return to the table after she finds out the truth, and the celebrated bathroom scene where she totally surrenders her guard for us to see an authentically heartbroken and betrayed person.
Julianne Moore is also good as Jules. She’s more feminine than Nic, but she never gives a false note in her toughness. She always rings true in her scenes, even in her scenes with Bening where we see that Bening clearly dominates it. She kinds of holds back when Bening is there, but she never stops from breathing in the life that her character needs. When she shares her scenes with Mark Ruffalo, they create a vibrant tandem together, and that’s mostly because of Moore. You can say things about the character, that it’s not that complicated compared to Bening’s character, bu tby raising the stakes of her character by continuously injecting sensitivity and passion to the role, she completely wears her character and projects a fearless interpretation of a character whose conflicts and confusions are so believable that she’s almost too realistic for cinema. What’s her best scene? Her monologue. The way she tries to keep herself , then in that one moment, she cannot take it anymore. It’s an intensely honest delivery form her that could easily go against the other best acted scenes this year.
Mia Wasikowska is a revelation here. First and foremost, her performance got the most dynamic reactions from me through the course of time. When I first saw this film, I thought she was the least capable of the actors. Then I also thought she was annoying. Rewatching the film made me feel about her. All of those feeling that I had, they were just because Wasikowska is so in the character. Her character is struggling – doesn’t know when to hold back and when to let go, when to protect her rights as an adult, her confusion over her crush – all of these are played so well by Wasikowska.The way her insecurity and her pride sometimes causes the trouble in the family and how Wasikowska successfully carries it with the gentleness of youth and the angst of adulthood is purely golden.
Josh Hutcherson is very good as Laser. The awkwardness of the situations his character undergoes throughout the course of the film feels natural and raw. There is nothing that was able to hinder him from giving a natural performance. I also felt the honesty of innocence he has. He was not trying to sell this character by acting shy or whatsoever. He reinforces this whole structure of emotions inside him that it feels consistent in his character.
Mark Ruffalo is also good as Paul. The inner turmoil that his character experiences from trying to keep a youthful attitude even if aging comes his way is well done by Ruffalo. It’s not the most challenging role from the film, but he surely knows how to manipulate his character to create the different dimensions of Paul. As I have said, it is not the most challenging role, that’s why I am not that satisfied with it. So, what lacked in complexities in my perspective was filled with realistic characterizations, and that, for me, is because of Ruffalo’s effort to bring the character to life. His soft-voiced explanation to her employee /sex buddy that he wants to have a family is as realistic as middle-aged desperation can get. Not that I already experienced it, but you can feel his desire to have stability in his life, and that is not just having someone to sleep with when libido calls him, but he wants to have a family. It’s a sad scene because he finally admits his troubles in his lifestyle. And although I won’t personally give him a nomination, his capability to build this semi-tragic character out of almost nothing but charm is indeed a very good effort.
The film never tried to shy away from the realities of this kind of family. It has genuine heart and humor. The actors are definitely doing their best, and I can actually see that. Even then, there is almost nothing extraordinary about his. There is a bittersweet feel in the film that is hard to overcome because you actually get it. To sum things up, the film was effective, but not something that I would easily remember when time comes that this film will simply go down to history. Like Juno, it has problems in things to make this stand out. Still, I won’t discount the successes of this film in telling the story. It feels special because it’s humane, but remarkable? I’m thinking twice right now.
Before I give my final grade, let me just tell you the history of the grade of this movie for me.
When I first watched this film, which happens to be more or less a year ago already, I immediately thought of giving it a 5, given that it’s the first best picture nominee that I saw for this year. I was already about to give this a clear 5. And then I saw more, then I rewatched. Things have changed. I went to 4.5. Then I thought about it again, so I went for 3.5, thinking that this movie is mediocre, only raised by the actors. I rewatched this film again. Before I started writing for this post, I am very ready to give it a 4. As I am writing right now, I am thinking about giving it a 4.5. Wait….. I’m thinking of 4. Or should I go back to 5? No.
Seriously, the grade that you’ll see is almost randomly picked.
For this, the movie gets:
What are your thoughts? Do you agree or not?