MORE THAN MEETS THE MOMS
With the gay couple aspect put aside, the family in The Kids Are All Right consists of all the trials and tribulations that are no different from a heterosexual one. Nic (Annette Bening) is the bread-winning doctor who is the more dominant of the “moms”, that likes to be in control, and that self-medicates with wine. Jules (Julianne Moore) is the stay at home mom who has been bouncing from one career to another trying to find her calling outside of the family. Joni is the brainy child and is a month away from moving off to college while Laser is the jock. Fifteen year old Laser, who is a little scared of being left alone with the moms once Joni is gone, asks his eighteen year old big sis’ to look up the identity of their sperm donor, a.k.a. dad.
When Paul (Mark Ruffalo) gets a call from Joni, he’s at a loss for words as he realizes that what he used to do for sixty bucks a pop has now manifested into living breathing offspring. Paul does all right for himself with his work of running an organic food restaurant that he owns and more than all right with the ladies. Paul runs with the opportunity to play dad as it brings some structure he never knew he wanted but now craves. Soon after the kids deem Paul to be cool, he makes the rounds with the moms for a hilarious sit-down dinner that makes us giggle and cringe as they do the dance of getting to know each other.
The Kids Are All Right paints an American family classic through the eyes of today’s dynamic. It delivers a rare comedy that plays everything straightforward without a wink and focuses on the merits of a household and not the dysfunctions of it. This is no more than a story of a time in a family’s life where the children are getting to know themselves as well as really getting to know their parents as people with flaws and strengths. The story you’re not used to is that Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser’s (Josh Hutcherson) parents are a lesbian married couple of over 20 years who used a one sperm donor to create the family that Nic and Jules always wanted.
My description of this story may not light your fire, but director Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon) along with the script that Lisa co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg, miraculously conveys real interest into this chapter of these character’s lives. For example, how Joni uses Paul to finally go through the rebellious stage she’s repressed for so long trying to give her moms the perfect lesbian family. Or the fact that this script nails the wear and tear that can happen in a long-term marriage with its boredom, routine, and growing apart. And how Paul gets in way over his head wanting to be a part of these people’s lives and truly coming to love them while holding onto the immature choices that he’s not had to face until now. When certain characters make certain mistakes, and grievous ones at that, Cholodenko doesn’t shy away with simple solutions, but shows the extremely hurtful consequences of wrong choices that we as humans make and how a family deals with the aftermath.
Now, of course to become fully invested in the characters you need the actors to be not just good but great. With The Kids Are All Right we are treated to some Oscar-caliber performances with Bening, Moore, and Ruffalo. Ruffalo, or as I like to call him Ruffalo Buffalo, exudes sexiness, even the way he bites a full pepper will do the trick for his admirers. I loved the dinner scene where he uncomfortably reaches for a drink to gather time for his reply to a snarky question from Nic. Bening and Moore are so great together, turning in one of the best married couples put onscreen in a long time. Even Mia Wasikowska shows a lot more potential than her turn the same year as Alice in Tim Burton’s “why even bother” remake of Alice in Wonderland.
The Kids Are All Right was a wonderful surprise of a summer of, how do the French say, cinema crap, and one of the best films of its year. Which makes this film a Mitch-must-see.
Take a Drink: anytime the word lesbian is said.
Take a Drink: whenever Joni or Laser get embarrassed.
Take a Drink: whenever Nic drinks.