Synopsis: Two children conceived by artificial insemination bring their birth father into their family life.
Release Date: July 9, 2010 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Comedy
If you’ve seen the commercials and trailers for The Kids Are All Right, you probably think it’s a comedy. Why wouldn’t you? The happy, smiling faces of beautiful, upper middle class people wining and dining in the brilliant California sunshine; it’s the feel-good indie of the year! Well, not exactly. The plot sounds like a wacky sitcom premise: Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and her half-brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) have two moms, flaky but maternal Jules (Julianne Moore) and breadwinning doctor Nic (Annette Bening). Each mom had one kid each using donated sperm. Now eighteen and eligible to find out about her father, Joni contacts the sperm bank as a favor to Laser, who’s longing for some fatherly guidance. Their donor/father it turns out is Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a hairy, earthy, motorcycle-riding organic gardner and restauranteur who conveniently lives nearby.
What follows is funny, but not nearly as cheerful and sunny as the posters advertise. The interactions between the kids and newly-discovered dad are awkward in the extreme; Laser seems disappointed Paul is such a laid back hippy stereotype, while Joni finds his freewheeling lifestyle refreshing and inspirational in contrast to her own academic rigors (a star student in high school, she is leaving within a month for college). Although both kids are willing to accept Paul into their life, Nic and Jules’ reactions are more complex. At first, Nic is hurt that Joni and Laser didn’t consult them before contacting Paul, but it gradually becomes clear she’s more threatened than upset. Jules, on the other hand, is wary but open. When Paul offers to hire her for some landscaping (a contract Jules’ upstart business needs desperately), she happily accepts.
I won’t divulge any more of the plot, but it gets messy. Director Lisa Colodenko and her co-writer Stuart Blumberg avoid many of the cliches that could have easily sidetracked the story. In a small film of this type, where the honesty of the writing and performances determine its success, cast and crew hit all the right notes.
Colodenko and Blumberg are writing real people, not movie archetypes. They never shy away from the inherent awkwardness of the situation or make any of the characters into unbelievable heroes. Jules and Nic love each other, but they are twenty years into their relationship and the cracks are beginning to show. Joni is perfectly sketched as the dutiful daughter who loves her family but can’t wait to get away. Their life is full of contradictions, especially in the individual family member’s changing attitudes towards Paul, who is at intervals regarded as a dangerous intruder, a non-threatening hippy doofus, a father, and a friend. The screenplay falls into a bit of a pattern in its third act where dramatic conflict is heaped upon dramatic conflict, and then suddenly, there’s a cathartic release in the last ten minutes. However, the catharsis didn’t entirely convince me. I wish we had gotten a coda at the end of the film to see how the family would have continued with Joni away at college and Paul a less integral part of their life.
The Kids Are All Right is the best acted movie of the year, by far. Every one of the five leads are terrific, the standout being Annette Bening as Nic. The film demands so much of her in a potentially thankless role. Nic is the breadwinner and disciplinarian, a woman who feels all the pressures and responsibilities of being a doctor, a parent and partner on top of having to accept a new man in their life. Bening brings such subtly and strength to the role, shading Nic with nuance and pathos so that we understand why she drinks too much wine and seems a little uptight. Bening also gets to say one of the funniest, most outrageous and best lines of dialogue I’ve heard in this young decade. The line itself is hilarious, but Bening makes it into something frightening, shocking, funny and a little sad. Hers is a wonderful performance and I wouldn’t be surprised if it garnered an Oscar nomination later this year.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Lisa ColodenkoJeffrey Levy-HinteCeline Rattray
- Producer(s): Daniela Taplin LundbergLisa CholodenkoStuart Blumberg
- Screenwriter(s): Julianne Moore (Jules)Annette Bening (Nic)Mark Ruffalo (Paul)
- Story: Mia Wasikowska (Joni)
- Cast: Josh Hutcherson (Laser) Jeffrey M. WernerIgor Jadue-Lillo
- Editor(s): Julie Berghoff
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