CAPSULE: A two-lesbian-parent family is functional and stable until the children decide to meet the donor-father they share but have never seen. Meeting him upsets the dynamics of the family. What starts as a comedy about unconventional family relationships turns into a drama with ironically more conventional relationships. Annette Bening, Juliette Moore, and Mark Ruffalo star. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Spoiler Warning: there are hints here of some of the plot complications.
Nic and Jules (played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) are the same-sex parents of a family of four. Daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska). 18, and son Laser (Josh Hutcherson of BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA), 15, have always been curious about the sperm-donor who was apparently the father of both. Joni is old enough to be allowed to make contact with the father and Laser convinces her to do so. That was how the kids met Paul (Mark Ruffalo)--a co-op farmer and restaurant-owner. Eventually all five get together over a table. The conversations are uncomfortable and awkward. People will start to say what they think and then pull back. Eventually it becomes clear that Nic has been the surrogate father to the family. She does not welcome the children's attention to a potential second father, a male one, who might unseat her. The presence of the children's real father strains and redefines all relationships.
Lisa Cholodenko directs from an original screenplay she wrote with Stuart Blumberg. In a year in which films seem mostly lacking in any character depth we get five complex portraits of different people. The film never passes judgment, positive or negative, on the lesbian relationship at the center of the film. It just simply accepts it and moves on. It would have been easy to make Paul a saint or a bounder. He is neither the savior nor the destroyer of the family relationships, though his presence brings to the surface some of the weaknesses of the family. It is a curious touch that both Jules and Nic have androgynous, if not male names. The dialog is particularly good at defining Choldenko's characters. There is a curious structure to the screenplay. Nic and Jules is each interrupted during sex and has to cover it. Also most of the important conversations take place over a table.
Nic and Jules, with obvious similarities, are still opposite types. Nic is a doctor and formally chooses to be in a position of authority. Nic is earthy and maybe a little New Age-ish. Together they constitute a familiar ying-and-yang bond. While the relationships seems that they would be different because of the nature of the parents, things seem to fall into more conventional and traditional situations. Nic could almost be a male father to the family and Paul could be Jules's first husband. Paul has his professional life together, but emotionally he is aimless. He has a fling with the manager of his restaurant, but eventually it is clear that it means little to him. Joni and Laser each comes under the influence of friends trying to pull them in directions they are not sure of. Laser's friend is macho and a little unsavory. Joni's best friend is fascinated by sex. Joni and Laser are each more mature than his/her friend.
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT was made for a minimal five million dollars; it has no special effects, is not shot in 3D, and no cars were damaged in the making of this film. With some fairly deep drama it is very uncharacteristic of the films of 2010. It may even remain memorable after the December flood of Oscar hopefuls. It has some of the best writing you will find this year. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. It should be noted that in the words of the MPAA, "Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use."
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0842926/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/10012141-kids_are_all_right/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper