Film Review: The Kids Are All Right

Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo give award-caliber performances in this funny and poignant comedy about a lesbian couple whose teenage children seek out their biological father.

Well-crafted comedies have become so rare in the feature film world, it’s no wonder The Kids Are All Right caused such a stir at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Lisa Cholodenko’s smart, humane, hilarious and poignant tale of a Southern California family is so satisfyingly entertaining, it’s almost beside the point to mention the family in question consists of two lesbians and their two artificially conceived teenage children. Critical raves and strong word of mouth ensure long life and potential award nominations for this Focus release.

Annette Bening is Nic, a fastidious doctor in a long-term relationship with the more impulsive Jules (Julianne Moore), whose ambition to become a landscape designer is just the latest in a series of career attempts. The plot is quickly set in motion when their 15-year-old son Laser (Josh Hutcherson) asks his 18-year-old sister Joni (Mia Wasikowska of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) to help find their biological father. The sperm donor turns out to be Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a free-spirited restaurant owner still very much enjoying the single life. When Paul meets the wary Nic and the much more receptive Jules, it’s the catalyst that brings tensions in the women’s seemingly cozy domestic life to the surface.

Even the potentially controversial (for gay viewers) attraction that develops between Jules and Paul is deftly handled by Cholodenko; Moore and Ruffalo’s erotic encounters are sexy to the max, but you never doubt they’re prompted more by marital frustrations than by any fundamental change in Jules’ nature. All three lead adult characters are flawed, vulnerable but eminently likeable—a tribute to Cholodenko and her co-writer Stuart Blumberg’s script, but also to the richly complex performances of her gifted actors. And the kids here are indeed all right: Wasikowska is poised and charming, and Hutcherson strikes just the right balance between wisdom and immaturity.

The triangle here is so delicately rendered, the film generates surprising suspense for a domestic comedy. You want to see serious rifts repaired and everyone to end up happy, and Cholodenko and Blumberg resolve the dilemmas they’re created with just the right wistful touch.

That’s not to say The Kids Are All Right isn’t consistently, delightfully funny. But this is one comedy where the laughs arise from recognizable, truthful human behavior. Even audiences disinclined to attend a movie about a non-traditional family will be started to find how much they relate to this compelling portrait of a marriage.