The Kids Are All Right is the latest film from well-respected female director Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon) and features an all-star cast that includes Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. It was a darling at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and one of the few films to cause a bidding war between studios. The film is based on an original screenplay that Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg (Keeping the Faith) worked on for over four years, borrowing heavily from both of their own personal experiences. The premise is to present a portrait of a modern day family and what it actually means to be in a family in this day and age. And while the film does an exceptionally well job at bringing to life vivid and real characters, the overall message or point of the film can’t help but remaining somewhat aimless.
Nic and Jules (Bening and Moore) are a happily married lesbian couple living in the ultra-hip suburbia of Southern California. They have two children, Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson), who were both conceived using artificial insemination. As Joni is preparing to leave for college at the end of the summer, her younger brother Laser asks her for to help track down his biological father. Enter Paul (Ruffalo) a laid-back renaissance man who runs and operates an organic restaurant surrounded by a staff of model-esque hippie chicks. Inevitably, Paul’s new energy leads to a disturbance in the protective aura that Nic and Jules have fostered for their children over the years.
As Paul’s relaxed attitude permeates into Nic and Jules domain, the more level headed Nic feels slightly threatened by this new factor in the family dynamic. To complicate matters even more, Jules, who also exhibits some hippie attitudes, agrees to work for Paul by landscaping his garden for his home. The tension mounts as relationships are skewed and the essence of the family unit evolves into unchartered territory. Joni becomes more attached to Paul than Laser, while a secret sexual attraction is brewing between Jules and Paul. Meanwhile Nic is slyly suspecting that these new changes will lead to nothing more than a disaster.
There are two immediate strengths to this film: the tightly-tuned script and dialogue, giving a sense of reality to the characters, their mannerisms and interactions as well as the chemistry between Moore and Bening. There’s a certain indefinable charm to their characters and personalities, while maintaining a fair level of subtext to underscore the emotional gravity of some of the situations. Cholodenko shows adept skill at handling a fair amount of humor, making sure never to insult the audience’s intelligent. All of this is leading to trying to say something about modern day families and how the face of them has changed but the problem is that the message isn’t clear. Perspectives are constantly shifting and there really isn’t a concrete point of view for any of the characters. So despite an all-star cast and a well-written script, The Kids Are All Right can’t help but feeling like it’s merely intent with entertaining the audience versus stimulating their minds.
7 out of 10.
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