The Kids Are All Right – Film Review

The Kids Are All Right

On July 29, 2010 I did a Q and A with the director, the writer and the cast of The Kids Are All Right, following the preview screening of the film. We were joined by Lisa Cholodenko (director/writer), Stuart Blumberg (writer), Juliane Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, and Josh Hutchinson.  The Q and A was a private event for members of The National Board of Review so I can not discuss the details – but I will say that it was an incredibly funny and thought provoking event – and the largest group of talent I have sat down to talk film with so far. Below is a link to the original review as published by the National Board of Review.

Review at National Board of Review web site

Originally posted on July 30, 2010

Thomas W. Campbell

The Kids Are All Right, the fourth feature film directed by Lisa Cholodenko, is an endearing comedy that ultimately takes a serious look at the emotional and psychological dynamics of complicated and modern family life. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play Nic and Jules, a lesbian couple living in California who have given birth to two children through artificial insemination. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is preparing to leave for college, which creates stress in the family and her younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is spending time with someone who “the moms” feel is beneath him. But these are normal developmental issues that families confront and manage to handle all the time. Things get more complicated when Laser decides that he would like to know who his biological dad is and Joni reluctantly agrees to help. When Paul, who is played with an endearing boyishness by Mark Ruffalo, learns that he has an offspring he agrees to a meeting. But his life gets a real twist when he discovers that he has fathered two children and that the parents are both women. “Oh, I like lesbians” he tells Mia on the phone, while cringing that it may have come out wrong.

It’s a great story set-up that pulls us in because all of the characters are so likable and realistic. Nic wears the pants in the relationship and Ms. Bening plays the driven A-type personality expertly. She is immediately suspect of Paul, explaining over lunch (many of the important events in the film happen during meals or around food) that she understands he is in the “food-service” industry. The similarities between Paul and Jules, on the other hand, are immediately apparent. Ms. Moore plays her role with a touching vulnerability – she is a woman without inherent career drive, having tried her hand at architecture before settling into a “housewife” role. But she surprises Nic with news that she has bought a used truck as part of a new plan to begin a landscaping business. When Paul wants to hire her to transform the backyard of his house she is unsure – but despite her protests he becomes her first client. Jules gains a newfound sense of confidence through the work but Nic becomes uncomfortable with the shifting nature of their relationship.

The script is extremely well crafted, the result of a first time collaboration between Ms. Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg (Keeping the Faith). The universal nature of the story makes it understandable on an emotional level to anyone who has been through family issues and the specific nature of the lesbian “moms” brings a nice twist that feels contemporary and relevant. The family faces internal issues – Joni is about to leave the nest – and must also confront the arrival of Paul, an event that becomes more complicated than anyone expects. The interaction between the family and Paul has a complexity that feels natural – like real life it is a bit messy. The kids develop a strong attraction to Paul’s relaxed way of life, finally isolating Nic as the only one not under his sway. Allegiances sway as Paul’s influence is felt by each one he touches until a crisis threatens to split the family. Regaining trust once it has been damaged is a process and the film sets the family back on the road of forgiveness without making things too simple.

The Kids Are All Right is a good-looking film, much of it shot in natural light. The soundtrack uses a mix of classic rock and newer music to reflect the multigenerational characters and especially benefits from the subtle touches of composer Carter Burwell, who creates simple and moving musical accents to give emotional weight. What makes this film work so well, though, is the strong script and the comfortable performances of the fine ensemble cast. It’s a pleasure to watch Bening and Moore working out their family issues, Wasikowska and Hutcherson struggling with their allegiances between their “moms” and biological father and to see Ruffalo go from nice guy to potential home wrecker. The Kids Are All Right is more than all right – it’s one of the funniest and moving films of the year.