July 31, 2010
The Kids Are All Right (2010) ****
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
The Kids Are All Right (2010)- Great performances in an astute look at the complexities of marriage. **** out of 5
The title The Kids Are All Right is an interesting one considering that much of this family comedy/drama involves pretty significant conflicts among its characters. Yet, there's never a moment when we don't believe 15 year old Laser (Josh Hutcherson) and 18 year old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) are loved and will ultimately succeed in life. It's the marriage/partnership of their lesbian parents Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) that might not survive both the external and internal conflicts at play.
Laser convinces Joni to contact their sperm-donor father Paul (Mark Ruffalo), which she does without telling their moms about it. After an understandably awkward first meeting, the kids take to their biological dad, and Paul finds that a family might just be what he's looking for as well. When Nic and Jules find out about Paul, they react very differently. Jules takes to him right away considering that she's a bit of a wandering soul, and he's a hippie who's found success in life. Paul asks Jules to landscape his backyard, which is great for Jules since she just started this business after many previous failed attempts at employment. Nic, on the other hand, is a type-A controller, and she's spent her life taking an unconventional family and shaping it into something that looks so perfect on the outside. Thus, she finds the addition of a man into her kids' lives something which she doesn't want and she cannot control.
Even before the kids meet Paul, Nic and Jules are having some relationship difficulties. Their physical relationship has turned pretty stale, and Nic has taken to drinking pretty heavily. Jules acts out in her own surprising way which I won't spoil, but they are tested to the extreme. With Joni going away to college and with the conflicts that arise because of Paul, the moms' relationship perhaps might not be able to survive. Then again, the title does suggest that the kids are going to be all right. If they're going to stay together, they're going to have to stay together for each other.
The performances are truly wonderful all around. Annette Bening especially deserves serious Oscar buzz for walking such a difficult line between unpleasant automaton and loving wife and mother. Nic wears her frustrations on her sleeve, and Bening not only translates Nic's insecurities perfectly, but she makes this woman ultimately someone to be admired and even liked. Julianne Moore has the more direct, compartmentalized role, playing a bubbly, spacey woman trying to find herself at this crossroads in her life. Moore is great and truly fun to watch, though most of her performance requires less nuance. Mark Ruffalo gives perhaps his best performance as Paul, the most seemingly mellow and entrancing man in the world. We've got to believe that the kids are going to take to Paul pretty quickly, and Ruffalo brings the charm and magnetism so well. He's also the funniest person in a film with quite a lot of comedy.
Unfortunately, the kids, who are featured prominently at the beginning only to be pretty much forgotten about in the middle until they reappear again for a final few scenes, aren't as fleshed out as the adults. That's nothing against the performances by Hutcherson and Wasikowska who are both excellent. Laser, especially, has a subplot involving an idiot of a friend which goes nowhere. If it wasn't for Laser's desire to meet Paul, there would be no film. It's too bad that he's set up really well only to be pushed aside when he's no longer needed.
Lisa Cholodenko succeeds in delivering a sexy comedy about an unconventional couple trying to live as a conventional family until an x-factor pulls at the threads. Unlike modest movies about families and relationships like Cyrus and Please Give, The Kids Are All Right feels real in so many ways, from its characterization, to its comedy, to its conflicts, to its ultimate resolution.
I'm tempted to end this review with something like, "The Kids Are All Right is all right," but I won't because, first of all, that's pretty corny, and second, this movie is better than all right. It's very good.