Title: The Kids Are All Right
Directed By: Lisa Cholodenko
Starring: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
Unpretentious family dramas are hard to come by. Even with good intentions, a film depicting the cause and effect of choices made at home can often come across as preachy, condescending and sometimes, just flat out wrong. The Kids Are All Right is just the opposite of that. It begins with those good intentions and flawlessly makes due on them through incredibly natural performances that bring a genuinely sincere story to life.
Jules and Nic (Julianne Moore and Annette Bening) are a married couple living with their two kids, Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson), in a quaint suburban neighborhood in Los Angeles. Everyone has their issues, but generally, life is good until Laser convinces Joni that the time has come to track down their birth father. Back in the day, both Jules and Nic took a trip to the sperm bank where they picked up a little something and artificially inseminated themselves with the goods from the same guy, Jules being Laser’s biological mother and Nic being Joni’s.
Without telling their moms, Joni and Laser find and meet their donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo). At first, Laser, the one who was hooked on the idea of meeting him to begin with, isn’t thrilled, but Joni, the one who had zero interest in the mission, actually wants to keep the relationship going. Eventually Laser spills the news and reveals to their moms that they have in fact met the man, desperate for cash, who made the donation 19 years ago. That leads to a big a family gathering, which leads to Paul employing Jules to help kick start her new gardening business, which leads to an attraction between her and Paul, which clearly leads to serious trouble.
The Kids Are All Right is a fantastically hilarious and moving family dramedy. Every piece of this puzzle seems so well thought out and constructed, yet the film as a whole moves along at such a natural and smooth pace. Every character is unique and well developed, making the excellent performances even more powerful.
Each member of the family fills a particular role and suffers from a different stress, making the dynamics relatable to any moviegoer. Nic is the control freak of the clan and doesn’t appreciate her kids going behind her back to seek out their father. Jules, on the other hand, is more of a free spirit and, like her kids, is often frustrated with Nic’s overbearing nature. On the outside, Joni is the perfect child; she’s a good student and isn’t a troublemaker, but deep down she’s harboring some serious aggravation that emerges once in a while in the form of a mean verbal jab towards her moms, laying the guilt on thick with the fact that she’s leaving for college soon. Laser isn’t actually a troublemaker himself, but a friendship with a bad influence creates some concern and tension.
Even amidst all of these problems, The Kids Are All Right is packed with humor and snappy dialogue. Goofy recurring jokes like Paul’s tendency to sub “shut the front door” for a more inappropriate phrase and Laser and Joni subbing the word “moms” for “parents,” as in not wanting to hurt moms’ feelings by hanging out with Paul, never get old and only add to the film’s charm. What makes the material so funny, is the natural delivery. Rather than treat a particular section of dialogue as a joke, all of the stars approach theirs lines with zero preconceptions. What plays out on the screen as a wholly ordinary event, can come off as downright hilarious to the audience.
This is largely due to Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg’s fantastic script, but to the performances as well. Moore, Bening, Ruffalo, Wasikowska and Hutcherson make for the perfect atypical family. The balance between all five players is uncanny, creating a brilliant dynamic, never overshadowing one another yet still permitting each character’s particular issues to make an impact. All of the elements of The Kids Are All Right are always in a perfect balance resulting in an incredibly enjoyable and touching dramedy. Packed with humble family principles, this one is worthwhile for anyone to see; a film you’re guaranteed to enjoy the whole way through and one that delivers values and that warm fuzzy feeling inside to hold on to afterward.
By Perri Nemiroff