In Cape Town, one is going to find a somewhat unexpected audience attending a movie such as this. Don’t ask me why – that is just the way it is. So, I was not surprised to see half the bowling club walk in and sit down in the row in front of me.
The story is an interesting one. It is a snapshot of a particular moment in time in the life of a somewhat unconventional family. A lesbian couple, played superbly by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, whose children are now 15 (Laser) and 18 (Joni). Joni is about to leave home for college. Laser is curious about the identity of his sperm donor father.
The children are ordinary teenagers. Somewhat petulant, irritated by their parents, but otherwise well rounded, curious, differently gifted, and each imbued with a particular personality. The parents are similarly individual. Nic (Annette Bening) is the more serious one. The worrier, the one bringing home the bacon in the high pressured responsible job. Jules (Julianne Moore) raised the children, dithered about her career, tried several things which didn’t quite get off the ground and is now setting up a business in landscape gardening.
The son, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), wants to meet his father and pressures his sister into making the contact. They both meet Paul (Mark Ruffalo) and, after the first awkward meeting, start to develop something of a relationship. Laser’s interest is far from intense, and once the initial meeting is over, he seems to lose interest, whereas his sister’s starts to increase.
Paul owns a restaurant, shags one of the staff every now and again and generally leads a fairly calm, but unremarkable life. His reaction, when he is phoned by the sperm donor agency to say that a nineteen year old girl bearing his DNA is looking for him, is mild curiosity. The problem is, it doesn’t end there.
He and the family start to get enmeshed. Jody, his biological daughter and Jules in particular start to get emotionally involved with him. Laser to a lesser extent, but it is only the one mother, Nic, that is excluded. Jules starts to fall for him and he for her and the result is a sexual liaison which is neither expected, nor altogether explained. But the fact is, it happens. And when Nic and the children eventually find out, the hurt which it causes is devastating.
What is so interesting and exciting about this movie, is the profound normalcy of the same-sex set up. The family is an ordinary one. The children are ordinary. The tensions and deceits and heartbreaks are ordinary. That is what makes it so powerful.
The fact is, this is a particular set of circumstances which brought a third party into the relationship. It could have been other circumstances. It could have been other impulses. This is just what it is.
And it is this which makes the movie so profound. On the one hand, there was someone in the audience who obviously had difficulties with Lesbians. You could hear this from the over-loud laughter and the obtuse reactions she gave. But even she could not have failed to recognise the universalizability of the experience. Because there was nothing particularly Lesbian about the betrayal. It was just a betrayal. The circumstances for it may have been somewhat different from the norm, but the actions and reactions could and would have taken place in any relationship – anywhere.
The film is a snapshot into the life of one family. One normally happy, sorted family, which, at one particular moment reached breaking point. It is emotional and touching in its rare and uncomplicated approach to life. It is very worth seeing.
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko; written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg; Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.
WITH: Julianne Moore (Jules), Annette Bening (Nic), Mark Ruffalo (Paul), Mia Wasikowska (Joni), Josh Hutcherson (Laser), Eddie Hassell (Clay) and Yaya DaCosta (Tanya).