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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 16, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 29
Kids Are All Right fantastic, enchanting, and deeply moving
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Kids Are All Right fantastic, enchanting, and deeply moving

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Kids Are All Right
Opening July 16


It's Joni's (Mia Wasikowska) 18th birthday, and her parents Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) are more than a little melancholy as the realization that their little girl is only a couple of months away from leaving them for college finally hits home. Little brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) has something completely different on his mind, however, and when the first quiet moment strikes, he's quick to remind his sister about his intimate request to her now that she's of emancipated age.

What is it that he wants? Laser wants to know who the sperm donor was who made their birth possible, and now that Joni is old enough to legally find out, he's eager for her to do just that. But big sis isn't so sure this is a good idea, and is worried what their moms will think if they were to discover exactly what it was their two children were secretly up to. Still, Laser is persistent, and Joni would be lying if she didn't admit to her own curiosity, so she takes the bull by the horns and contacts the clinic to set the gears in motion.

Enter restaurateur Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a scruffy former slacker nearing 40 who has yet to plant some roots of his own. To his surprise, he finds himself drawn to the kids, enjoying the blossoming relationship he's starting to have with them even though none of them are entirely sure where it will ultimately lead. That uncertainty grows exponentially when Jules and Nic enter the picture, and all five enter potentially chaotic waters for which the guidebooks still haven't been written.

I absolutely loved the Sundance Film Festival favorite The Kids Are All Right. Beautifully acted by all five leads and intelligently scripted by director Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon) and co-writer Stuart Blumberg (The Girl Next Door), the movie is a refreshingly honest and frank modern comedy that hits numerous emotional highs. It treats both its characters and its audience with respect, and everything builds with a delightful effortlessness that's both enchanting and deeply moving.

What might be most interesting here is how the filmmakers treat the family dynamic at the film's core. Cholodenko and Blumberg don't make a big deal about the fact Joni and Laser's parents are Lesbians; they don't treat it as an issue needing to be discussed and debated. Jules and Nic are instead just good, solid, everyday folks, arguing over the same timeless issues revolving around raising children that parents the world over have faced for eons.

Once you get past the central sperm donor hook, the big things facing the two women are as rudimentary as you can possibly get. Does she still love me after all these years? Am I sexy enough for her? What if I'm not successful? Does she believe I can handle things on my own? Did we raise our children right? Are we good parents? Those are things facing Jules and Nic, and if parents of all stripes can't relate at least in some way, then they've got far bigger issues facing them than anything to be found here.

Some will undoubtedly take issue with a second-act twist involving Jules and Paul, while a case can certainly be made that Nic isn't entirely likeable and can come across as rude and disingenuous. Others will argue that the film asks a ton of questions and doesn't go out of its way to answer the majority of them, leaving a ton of threads dangling by the time all is finally finished.

I cannot help but disagree with pretty much all of those complaints, and if the film were directed by a Woody Allen or a Robert Altman and involved a straight couple dealing with many of the same issues, I doubt this argument would even be taking place. For my money, Cholodenko and Blumberg get far more spot-on than they ever do off, hitting the mark repeatedly with every naturalistic twist and turn their story takes. I believed in these people, had no trouble putting my feet in their shoes, and while I didn't always agree with their choices, that didn't mean I still didn't understand why it was they were making them.

This is, without a doubt, Cholodenko's best effort yet. There is a confident self-assurance at play here that just oozes right off the screen, and the director's handling of her actors and pacing of the narrative is just about perfect. Everything ultimately feels totally authentic, and while I do admit to being a tiny bit annoyed about how one major character makes their third-act exit, as problems go, that one is pretty darn minor. This film hits so many right notes I hardly even noticed when it made a sour one, and Cholodenko is blossoming into a major talent worthy of keeping an eye on.

In a perfect world, we'd be talking Oscar nods for the script, Moore, and especially Bening. Heck, we might even be pondering one for the actual film itself (and maybe even for Wasikowska and Ruffalo, as well). The Kids Are All Right held me intoxicated right from the very start, and as I walked home after I couldn't stop the beautifully deserved tears from flowing no matter how hard I tried. In this case, the kids just aren't all right; they're freaking fantastic.

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