DVD Review: It’s not just an honest, funny film about a lesbian marriage and family. The Kids are All Right is an honest, funny film about any marriage and family. And awards-worthy performances from Annette Bening and Julianne Moore certainly don’t hurt.
Last summer’s antidote to clamorous franchises and cartoon characters, The Kids are All Right is a moving—and often hilarious—dramedy about a very modern, “unconventional” family that finds itself dealing with the same issues the most conventional families and marriages face. How do you keep a marriage solid as partners grow and change? And how do you balance your lives as you pour all your energy into trying to raise the best kids you can?
Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are marvelous as a charmingly complementary lesbian couple (Moore’s Jules is a genial hippie, Bening’s Nic is a perfectionist doctor) who’ve raised their two children to teen-hood—past the point where crunchy mantras of virtuous parenting automatically save the day.
The notion of their gay marriage isn’t ignored—director Lisa Cholodenko and her co-writer Stuart Blumberg know the uniqueness of the family is part of the equation, even to the extent that “the Moms” are self-conscious about creating some sort of “ideal lesbian family” as a role model for others. But nor is it the main point of The Kids Are All Right.
Nic and Jules’ “new family” ideal hits a few bumps when the young-adult children Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) decide to seek out Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the man who donated sperm for their conception. (Perfectly showing Joni’s earnest adolescent confusion, Wasikowska is a luminous star in the making.) Like all teens, the kids are searching–tethered to Bening’s high-achiever ambitions, Joni is off to college; while Laser is clearly in need of a positive male role model. But the irony is that the kids really are all right–it’s the adults who come unbalanced.
(Cholodenko drew inspiration for the film’s fictional family from her own long-term relationship with musician Wendy Melvoin–of Prince’s Revolution and Lisa & Wendy fame–and their four-year-old son Cholodenko conceived from a sperm donor.)
Despite a gleefully open sexuality and some pretty enthusiastic copulating (it’s R-rated for a reason), for the most part The Kids Are All Right is about people getting to know each other and trying to find out what happened to the person they thought they knew. It gets at the heart of marriage and family, the love and conflict, the confusion and unconditional support.
Ruffalo is his typically terrific scruffy self, as what first passes for Paul’s laid-back centeredness is eventually revealed as an irresponsible arrested-development attitude toward parenting. He thinks it’s something fun and personally fulfilling he can stroll into, wearing a “cool dad” hat when it feels good, as opposed to the day-in, day-out struggles and sacrifices Nic and Jules have gone through to raise their children.
But the show belongs to Moore and Bening, who wear their realistic, lived-in beauty with pride and whose bravura acting infuses the film with a rugged radiance. Both are already racking up award nominations, and for good reason. Moore is doing some of her finest work in years, but Bening has the tougher job, taking Nic from grins to grimaces while keeping the sympathetic control-freak (who too often self-medicates with wine) from becoming a harridan caricature.
The Kids Are All Right’s greatest strength is its knowing naturalism—mixing slapstick with heartache, the film is more goofy than gritty, cute but not contrived, and finely observed without being fussy. That makes it a wonderful, perhaps painfully familiar (and yes, R-rated) film that can be appreciated by anyone, no matter their sexuality or family structure.
More of the cast of The Kids Are All Right from redbox:
- Annette Bening in Mother and Child
- Julianne Moore in Chloe
- Mark Ruffalo in Shutter Island
- Mia Wasikowska in Alice in Wonderland and That Evening Sun
- Josh Hutcherson in Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant