When you get a certain cast together and have a story that explores either new or controversial subject matter, it’s a good bet that awards will follow. It remains to be seen if that will be the case here, but “The Kids Are All Right” has a lot of potential.
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a long-term lesbian couple with two children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) conceived with the help of a sperm donor. All are happy within this slightly unconventional, yet stable family unit. On the surface anyway.
As children tend to do, Joni turns 18 and is also very close to leaving for college. Her brother is only 15, but has wanted to meet his donor father for some time. Joni takes it upon herself to track him down and contact him, more for her brother’s benefit than her own.
The biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo) is a little bit of a slacker, but a successful restauranteur all the same. Their meeting goes rather well with the usually uptight Joni intrigued by Paul while Laser is merely lukewarm toward him. Paul expresses a genuine interest in getting to know the kids. Both kids, however, decide that they can see Paul again, but must keep it from their mothers so no feelings are hurt.
It eventually comes out that they met Paul, to the chagrin of Nic and Jules. For the sake of their children, they tentatively support the relationship. Nic, the more organized and professional of the two, is clearly unsettled by all of this. Jules hasn’t quite found her niche in life yet and is currently trying to get a landscaping business off the ground. When it comes up at dinner, Paul offers to let her redo his back garden.
As Jules and Paul spend more time together, they realize that they have more in common than they though. Jules feels controlled and as though Nic looks down on her for her career failures. They begin to have an affair which complicates all of their relationships, to say the least.
Will Paul and the kids continue to grow closer? Can Nic and Jules keep it together?
Almost any time straight actors play gay characters, it’s lauded as ‘brave’ and seemingly expectant of praise. True, it would probably take most people out of their comfort zone, to say the least, but a fast track to Oscars (at least a nomination) is practically inevitable.
Either way, the film carefully balances itself right between a comedy and a drama, leaning a bit more toward the latter. There are some moment of humor, even if some of it is telegraphed, but relationship strife and paternal uncertainty seems to lend itself best toward the dramatic. The mood certainly never gets bogged down by melodrama and the tone stays relatively light throughout.
It’s very obvious which mother gave birth to which child because their personalities are reflected by them. While it’s fine to have the women be attracted to each other as opposite personalities, do you really have to accentuate Jules’ free-spirited nature by having her name her son Laser? Really? Also, the issues that the kids face are a bit less compelling than the ones that the adults face. Based on the title, one would think that they would have a lot more at stake, but not so.
Ruffalo’s Paul is a very laid back character that you can tell is a little behind as far as maturity, but is a nice, well-intentioned guy. Of course he acts impulsively and makes a huge mistake with Jules, but it’s up to the viewer to decide whether forgiveness is truly divine. That’s a really theme in the film, letting go of the past and moving on.
As far as the acting, this examiner isn’t always the biggest fan of Benning or Moore, but both actresses dive into their roles and give convincing performances. Ruffalo gives Paul an easygoing charm that makes him very possible to root for, despite his shortcomings. The kids aren’t bad, especially Wasikowska, but again, they aren’t quite as prominent or interesting as the adult characters. No fault of the actors, but it’s how the script was written.
Special features include: “The Journey to Making a Family,” a making-of featurette, a look at the writing process and feature commentary.
One thing is for certain, the story certainly has the ability to spark a lot of debate among watchers. That’s a sign of a good movie, pure and simple.
No matter what your opinion on some of the plot decisions, hopefully we can all agree that “The Kids Are All Right” makes for a much better film title based on a Who song than “Baba O’Riley.”
Rated R 104 minutes 2010
“The Kids Are All Right” will be available to rent/purchase in Allentown, the Lehigh Valley and beyond.