Film Review – The Kids Are All Right
The Kids Are All Right begins with a premise simple in its conceit but refreshingly removed from our typical summer movie fare. Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a long-time committed couple. They are raising two children, each biologically attached to one parent and also to the same sperm donor. Daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is about to leave for college, and son Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is several years younger. We look in at this picture of a long marriage, kids as well-adjusted as anyone can reasonably hope for, and adults trying to figure out what the next half of their lives will look like.
In a move that would veer us into very different territory in the hands of lesser actors or someone less subtle than director Lisa Cholodenko (who co-wrote the script with Stuart Blumberg), the kids decide to seek out and meet their sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo)—without telling their moms. From here, the characters act in ways that are true to the small world that’s been set up. We’re treated to a series of awkward events that are situational comedy in the most genuine sense.
As the various members of the family bond with Paul in their own, vastly disparate ways, they of course use this new catalyst to examine their relationships with each other. Poor choices are made, allegiances are formed and broken, issues bubble to the surface, as issues will. Some of the plot turns are predictable, because these characters are people like so many people we have known, and like ourselves. Luckily, the writing is skillful in a way I hope I can emulate myself: scenes simply end before getting to the cliché part, and let the audience members’ own experiences and common sense fill in the blanks.
Besides the enviable script, the deft direction must also be noted. One could take this script, tweak a scene here and there, hire different actors, and tell the same story either entirely as a melodrama or as a slapstick comedy. Either choice could potentially result in a successful film. What we get here, though, is something where we get to feel genuinely for the characters in a way that doesn’t work with a more extreme tone. They exude toward each other the same feeling we all do for so many of our loved ones: I love you, but you’re annoying as hell sometimes. I believe too many movies and television shows leave us wondering why their inhabitants would ever actively choose to spend time with each other. This is never a problem here; despite their problems, we just get it.
It must be said that it is significant to see a fairly mainstream film showcase a gay couple without ‘making a big deal of it.’ That is certainly nice to watch. So, too, for me, is it significant to see a film that is at its core a comedy feature three great roles for female actors. Moore and Bening will be on Oscar shortlists; Wasikowska solidifies her reputation as a rising star.
This film is one that, the more I think about it, the more I appreciate. I didn’t realize how much I wanted to see an indie family comedy that relies on relationships and characters rather than quirk to charm its audience. But here it is, and I’m thankful.