The Kids Are All Right is a sharp and snappy comedic family drama, although neither Ozzie nor Harriet – especially Harriet – ever dreamed of a family quite like this. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore portray a lesbian couple in a long term relationship somewhere in the sunny California suburbs. Over the years, they have birthed and raised two whip-smart kids: Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Lazer (Josh Hutcherson), each conceived by sperm from the same anonymous donor.
As Joni prepares to go off to college, she puts the wheels in motion to meet her donor-father, who turns out to be a free-spirited organic restaurateur named Paul (Mark Ruffalo). A host of unexpected complications ensue, ranging from hilarious to poignant, and eventually they threaten the moorings that have kept this unconventional family together for so long.
Director Lisa Cholodenko (who co-wrote the script with Stuart Blumberg) does a fine job of keeping this deceptively complex tale in coherent balance. It is a true ensemble piece, with all five characters critical to the story’s construction and all of them presented as believable non-stereotypes. Wasikowska and Hutcherson refreshingly portray their roles without the slightest bit of whiny teen attitude, and often seem like the most sensible and emotionally mature of the lot.
Mark Ruffalo’s Paul is exactly what you’d expect from this actor, and that’s a good thing. Ruffalo has the unique ability to transcend virtually any role he takes by contrasting his gentle, quiet physicality with a darker, calculating inner layer - you always feel there is more to one of his characters than meets the eye. Through experience, Ruffalo has perfected this persona and comes off as a healthier version of the Mickey Rourke of 25 years ago, before Rourke made bizarre and puzzling choices that caused his career to require its current resuscitation.
But Moore and Bening are the real draws here; their parts so well written and realized we swear we have met Nic and Jules somewhere before. They approach these roles as true craftsmen; their attention to detail creates a palpable sense of the many strata formed by decades of shared intimacy. Both of these glamorous actresses sport very little make-up in this film, and they wear their wrinkles and blemishes like battle ribbons awarded for the day-to-day pressures of raising their unusual family.
When the relationship hits a rough patch at the ¾ point, we sense Moore and Bening circle their emotional wagons and try to decide if their love, despite a new and formidable challenge, has enough tempered strength to survive. Moore gives a moving speech at the film’s darkest hour that is possibly the most accurate description of marriage, and the fortiude it sometimes takes to remain married, this reviewer has ever heard.
The Kids Are All Right is not in 3-D and is utterly devoid of vampires, zombies or state-of-the-art special effects. It has nothing to offer but good acting and good writing. And after it’s over - and you’ve laughed a lot and cried a little – you’ll realize that’s all a movie really needs.
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