The Kids Are All Right
Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use
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When I think of all of the indie-styled flicks that have attempted to be about something, yet ended up being about nothing, there's something satisfying in picking up a production like The Kids Are All Right. The film manages to tap into a story that sits slightly outside the mainstream, feels like the type of independent feature that used to be made by the boatload and managed to feel like it had something integral to say about human interaction.
Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) are a loving couple raising two children they each conceived using the same donor's sperm. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is the eldest child, three years to the senior of Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Despite their seemingly positive home environment, Laser is curious about his sire, the father he never knew. He convinces his sister, who can legally make the request, to attempt to contact their biological father. Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a college dropout who has successfully transitioned into a natural food grower and seller. Without their parents' knowledge Joni and Laser make an outing to meet the agreeable Paul to determine if there's a connection and despite a rather awkward initial encounter, they each realize they want to get to know the other a little better.
After the kids reveal their plan, Jules and Nic are apprehensive at first, but agree to further the connections and through several successful events, only Nic remains skeptical of Pual's motives and firmly believes their home life is perfect without him. Yet, for all the perceived perfection, their family is flawed and while Paul is the catalyst, the foundation had been cracking for years before.
The Kids Are All Right presents five people, each flawed in their own way struggling to live a perfect life and their problems are little removed from those of the people sitting down in the audience to watch the film. That Jules and Nic are lesbians is barely at issue here and although it plays a key role in the plot, the pairing is portrayed honestly and realistically. This is in part due to the wonderful performances in the film. Both Moore and Bening have modestly challenging roles to play, Moore, who has significantly more experience in indie-minded affairs acquits herself better of the wounded woman unable to commit, yet always stuck in the shadow of her more accomplished wife. Bening delivers a solid performance, but American Beauty was a better showcase of her talents than this. And when compared with co-star Moore, she pales. Yet it is neither Moore or Bening that command this film. Nor is it Hutcherson or Wasikowska who are delightful in their own rights.
Mark Ruffalo has been a long underappreciated talent on the big screen. With his work in films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Blindness to name just two, there's little not to like. He allows his characters' imperfections to drive the performance, not to envelop it. He doesn't lose his humanity or compassion in an effort to display as many tics and mannerisms as he can. The seeming lack of effort he puts into his roles makes him one of my favorite actors. And when you can show up in a film like The Kids Are All Right and upstage two respected, Oscar-nominated Hollywood actresses, you have to respect that.
Director Lisa Cholodenko burst onto the scene over a decade ago with her critically acclaimed High Art, a film which took Patricia Clarkson and turned her into one of the independent cinema's great working actresses and brought Ally Sheedy her first major critical attention. A focused artist who gives actors quality roles has delivered a well written and engaging family drama that upends traditional family values while simultaneously supporting them. She shows the flaws in a lesbian relationship, yet presents it as naturally as a straight marriage. Her characters are deeply flawed, but those intricacies make them regular folk, not separate them.
The Kids Are All Right doesn't linger on antiquated ideas or dwell on unspent possibilities. It exists without remorse and the audience easily embraces that concept. It's the kind of naturalistic film that is remembered in ten years as being a movie that got it right rather than one that tried to do so and failed.
November 29, 2010