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Kids are All Right, The (2010)
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by Erik Childress

"Earns Its Title At Least"
4 stars

Some years back, Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right would have been considered groundbreaking. In the early years of Sundance before films like this were a dime-a-dozen, before Julianne Moore or Mark Ruffalo appeared in at least two of them per festival and before gay relationships became a mainstay in our society and a staple of independent film. This film is not one to wear those politics on its sleeve, nor to go out of its way to show you how far from the norm its style or its actors are. It simply tells an all-American tale with award-level performances that is at its best when going for laughs rather than dramatic depths, where it comes disturbingly close to shifting the gears on its casual principles.

Nic & Jules (Annette Bening & Julianne Moore) are a happily married lesbian couple in Los Angeles. They have two teenage kids; the brainy Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is on her way to college in the fall and 15 year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson) who aimlessly spends his days with a loser pal. Laser does have one current focus though and that is tracking down their moms' sperm donor. Since he is not of age, he gets Joni involved despite her belief that this may hurt their birth parents. What they find is Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an organic gardener and restaurant owner who agrees to meet with them.

Almost immediately, Paul begins to have an influence on their lives. His devil-may-care, but not entirely irresponsible, attitude sparks Joni to want to see him again. The moms are expectedly taken aback at first but invite him into their lives to make sure their children are not getting involved with a ne'er-do-well. The controlling Nic is not impressed at his life's path, but Jules' Green mentality jives with Paul and after she gets a start on her new business by redesigning his garden, he begins mowing her lawn.

Admittedly not the greatest guffaw any more than it is a metaphor for what's missing in that secret garden Bruce Springsteen sang about. The film's title however, though grammatically weened, comes from Roger Daltrey and The Who, so anyone who feels that bit of info (also provided in the trailer) is a giveaway need look no further than the lyrics to see why the film was named as such. The kids are, indeed, all right and little more. If any element of the screenplay by Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg fails its characters it is in the kids who are vastly underwritten caricatures of teen angst who are basically only affected through Nic's eyes, becoming props that she is quickly losing control over. Joni's arc comes down to spouting defenses of her being 18 and an adult whose bashfully underplayed sexuality only reveals itself during a drunken impulse. Laser early on shows more of a budding intolerance of living amongst an all-female household and acts out with skateboardin', rough-housin', drug-takin' Clay (Eddie Hassell). Supposedly it takes Paul's influence to realize his pal is a total tool, but who wouldn't come to that conclusion when Clay's first instinct on finding a stray dog is to pee on its head?

Moments like these are part of the often deadly dramatic beats which pass as character revelations that we are well out in front of. Once Jules is spurned sexually by her workaholic partner, it is a ticking clock before she allows herself a little lust with the willing donor. Each of the characters in the immediate family have their own attache to burden in what is utilized as a second dimension to their personalities, but once they confront their own cures, if you will, they are revealed to be pretty obvious caricatures. Nic is frequently defined by her jurisdiction over the household, peppered with an overindulgence in wine. Her maternal instincts in protecting her children's health is overemphasized with being a doctor who has seen enough accidents and the frequent condescension towards her partner calls into question how Jules ever got away with naming her birth son Laser. The most balanced and actually least predictable character turns out to be Paul and he will ultimately pay the harshest price for it.

Defending Paul and his actions is not the most honorable of moves. Criticism for his part in the affair is well warranted. Since Ruffalo plays the character with such warmth and genuineness in his attempt to grow into this version of fatherhood, it is pretty hard to dislike him entirely. Even the looseness he has displayed on screen as both suave (The Brothers Bloom) and nerdy (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) cannot quite compare to his work here which may be his best since his breakout role in 2000's You Can Count On Me to which Paul can be seen as a bookend. Equaling his work is Julianne Moore, an actress rarely afforded an opportunity to do comedy but as anyone who saw her arc on TV's 30 Rock can attest, she is quite up for it. Jules could have been just another stay-at-home partner with middle-class dreams of grandeur or a dissatisfied partner constantly testing the patience of the more together Nic. The screenplay dosn't afford her more than a few moments of motherly bonding as most of her scenes play out with either Nic or Paul. Even at her less innocent moments, Moore plays Jules as such and earns our sympathy where she also probably does not deserve it, ultimately turning in her best work since 2002's Far From Heaven. Bening makes the most of a character who is present through most of the film as the disapproving obstacle to everyone else's arc. Her sudden realization of things beyond her control after a desperately half-hearted attempt to make things right is a moment that even Hilary Swank can steal away from her.

As stated earlier, The Kids Are All Right does not clamor to be a film basked in controversy or seeking status as some kind of revolutionary modern portrait - nor should it be perceived as. Its politics may not spring forth from same-sex, but it does from the sexes of old and may leave some with a bad taste in their mouth. There's an unfortunate consequence that the irresponsible male must pay for his sins in this film and it is quite inequitable when the women can speechify and forgive while the third wheel is basically stripped down to his guy parts - irresponsibility and lacking commitment - and left in the lurch. Turning into one big happy family might have appeared too neat and tidy, but the film has not earned anything edgier. If it had found a way to tackle sexuality (especially following through with Joni & Laser's curiosities) as anything but a Three's Company throwaway and earning its "strong sexual content" by clipping in some male-on-male porn, maybe it would have. Still, strip the film down to its barest parts - namely three strong central performances and a lot of really funny moments - and The Kids Are All Right at the very least earns its title.

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originally posted: 07/09/10 15:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Traverse City Film Festival For more in the 2010 Traverse City Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/08/16 Jamie Loved it! Julianne and Annette are amazing Mark Ruffalo so sexy. Earthy, deeply acted film. 5 stars
8/19/11 RLan A solid story about a family. Its worth a watch. 4 stars
8/01/11 Annie G Not at all what I expected, but ok. 3 stars
5/05/11 millersxing great chemistry between the female leads lends unexpected authenticity...bravo 4 stars
2/10/11 Deanna L dreary soaper with no clue; offensive and irritating 1 stars
11/30/10 action movie fan neither the kids nor this movie is alright-dull soap opera for the most part 2 stars
7/20/10 garrett pretty much like anything mark ruffalo is in 4 stars
7/19/10 Ronald Holst I loved it laughed my A$$ off . 5 stars
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  09-Jul-2010 (R)
  DVD: 16-Nov-2010


  DVD: 16-Nov-2010

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