Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Movie Review: The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right *** ½
Directed by:
Lisa Cholodenko.
Written By: Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg.
Starring: Julianne Moore (Jules), Annette Bening (Nic), Mark Ruffalo (Paul), Mia Wasikowska (Joni), Josh Hutcherson (Laser), Yaya DaCosta (Tanya), Kunal Sharma (Jai), Eddie Hassell (Clay).

The Kids Are All Right is a comedy about a 20 year marriage that has fallen into a little bit of a lull. They have two kids, one about to go off to college, and the other a teenage boy who they worry is hanging out with the wrong crowd. The couple has been taking each other for granted for a while now, and fallen into a bit of a rut. That the couple are lesbians doesn’t really matter much – marriages of any sort deal with the same problems – it has to do with two people living together day in and day out for years on end.

The couple is played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening. Moore is Jules, who is a little bit of a flake, who drifts aimlessly from one career to another and is a little more of a free spirit. She has decided now that she wants to be a landscape architect, and impulsively has bought a truck for that purpose, although she has no clients. Bening is Nic, more responsible and reliable – she is a doctor who works long hours, and supports the family by herself when Jules is between jobs. She is tired more often than not, and has started to get like we see many husbands in the movies get – drinking a little too much, and not willing to turn off their phone even while they are at home. This couple love each other, but are drifting apart a little bit.

Their kids are Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). They were conceived with donor sperm – the same donor, although there is three years age difference between them. Nic gave birth to Joni, and Jules to Laser, but they call both of them mom (or when referring to both of them – moms). Laser is curious about their biological father, and since Joni has just turned 18, she can no legally request information on him. She calls the cyrobank, who contacts the sperm donor – Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who is curious about his two kids and agrees to meet them. Paul is no approaching 40, has never married or had any other kids, and has kind of drifted in his life – although he now seems to make a good living running a restaurant and an organic garden, You could call him an aging hippie, but since he was probably born after the ‘60s, that wouldn’t really be accurate. But he still talks like one.

The Kids Are All Right is an amusing comedy because it observes these five characters – and a few others that drift into the world – with honesty. This is certainly not a heavy drama, but rather a movie that makes us smile throughout, even when serious things do happen. The main relationship in the movie is between the two women – Jules and Nic – who have always done everything together, especially raising their kids. Initially, they are hurt that Joni and Laser have contacted their biological father behind their backs – but they understand. They are curious, and they try to be good, liberal parents and support their children and their choices (perhaps the funniest scene in the film is when they think Laser is gay, and they sit him down to talk with him about it). The entrance of Paul into their lives, and their family, brings to light the problems in their marriage. They were always there, but he makes them clearer to everyone involved. They love each other, but sometimes love isn’t enough.

The performances in the movie are really what make it so great. I love Julianne Moore, and it has been a few years she has been given a role this good. She is flaky, but in a lovable way. She is also vulnerable and sympathetic – so sympathetic that we even forgive her her trespasses. Bening’s Nic is a little more distant – we like her too, but we understand how living with her may get on your nerves after a while. In a family gathering, everyone seems to watch her to see what she is going to do. Wasikowska proves, after her stint in Alice in Wonderland, that there really is a talented little actress under all that hair. And Hutcherson plays a teenage boy that I think almost any guy can relate to. The key performance in the movie though is probably Ruffalo’s. He comes into this already set family, its set dynamic and changes everything – and he doesn’t quite seem to realize it. He’s a go with the flow type of guy, who everyone initially likes, but when you get to know him a little better, you can see how dense he can be. Did he really expect to be able to come into the family, do what he does, and get away with it? How about that almost painful to watch scene where he dumps his current girlfriend because he wants a family and wants to be with someone willing to go there with him – never realizing that she already is. At the beginning of the movie, I think he was lost and didn’t know it – by the end, he is even more lost, but at the very least, I think he realizes it.

The movie was written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko, who previous film include High Art – which gave Ally Sheedy her best role ever, and Laurel Canyon, which gave Frances McDormand a wonderful role as well. Both of those movies also dealt with sexuality in the same honest, gently humorous way The Kids Are All Right does. But this time, I think she has made an even better movie – one that is even more tuned into her characters, and brings them to life. The Kids Are All Right is pretty much a perfect antidote to all the big, loud explosions and obnoxious comedies of the summer months.

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