The Kids Are All Right, directed and co-written by Lisa Cholodenko, is one of this summer’s most talked about independent movies. It’s a drama-comedy centered around a couple, Nic (Annette Bening, American Beauty) and Jules (Julianne Moore, A Single Man). Using the same anonymous sperm donor, they each gave birth to a child, respectively,Joni (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia).
Life at home is pleasant and comfortable, albeit a little stale and at times strained. The film picks up the summer before Joni leaves for college. Laser comes to his half-sister with a favor: since she is now 18, she can contact the sperm bank for information on their biological father. Their dad turns out to be Paul (Mark Ruffalo, 13 Going On 30), an easy-going bachelor turned restaurateur. At first Nic and Jules are supportive of their children’s decision to meet Paul, but soon his inclusion begins to shift the delicate family dynamic. This culminates when Jules and Paul, who were working together on a landscaping project, spontaneously begin an affair of sorts.
Two things about this movie really stood out to me: the performances and the writing. Moore does a great job as Jules, the unfocused, free-spirit mom still looking for direction in her life. Likewise, Benet is a great fit as Nic, the type-A doctor who is overly fond of wine. Their characters could have easily become caricatures, but both actresses approach their roles with honesty. It’s instantly believable that these two women have been a relationship spanning two decades. I expect both of them to get plenty of nominations and recognition come award season.
Ruffalo also gives a solid performance as Paul, probably the most complicated character. Ruffalo is an underrated actor, but he manages to make Paul likable even though he screws things up pretty badly. Wasikowska is good as well, and I expect great things from her in the future. However, the material for her and Hutcherson isn’t the best- when the teens are shown with the friends it seems superficial. The two of them shine alongside Moore and Bening.
The writing is also strong, and for the most part it gives the actors good material to work with. There are few things I enjoy more in comedies than witty banter, and The Kids Are All Right has plenty of it. Thankfully, not too much attention is focused on the fact that the parents are also lesbians. This isn’t a movie about homosexuality, it’s a movie about a family. The people in this movie deal with very real and universal problems, from infidelity to mid-life crises. This is a sophisticated and smart movie, but beyond it’s premise, it’s not as original as you would like. That’s why The Kids Are All Right isn’t completely satisfying, but it’s still a worthwhile watch.
What do you think? Are you planning on seeing this movie, or have you already?