Saturday, August 7, 2010

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (2010)

Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg


Directed by Lisa Cholodenko


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  July 20, 2010  7:45PM



The definition of what a "family" is has evolved over the years. Today, people are more open to the idea that parents can consist of something beyond a man and a woman, which brings us to the current film from Lisa Cholodenko, "The Kids Are All Right".

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a couple, together for over twenty years, who each gave birth to a child using the sperm of the same anonymous donor and they have raised their children together in Los Angeles. Nic is a very busy doctor while Jules stayed at home to care for the kids but now that they are older, she wants to get back to work and start a landscaping business. While Nic is tough, no-nonsense and the breadwinner which makes her more like a father figure of the family and Jules is the more maternal one, but both of them bring a decidedly feminine approach in regards to the raising of their children.

Joni (Mia Wasikowska), Nic's daughter, is about to turn eighteen and go off to college and Jules's son, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is fifteen and has had his fill of a house full of estrogen. Laser asks his sister to put in an inquiry about their biological father so he could meet him. Joni is not particularly interested in doing this and she is concerned that it might hurt both of their mother's feelings but reluctantly agrees.

It turns out that their father is very interested in meeting them and they arrange to meet at his restaurant. Paul (Mark Ruffalo), is lighthearted, an enviromentalist and a confirmed bachelor. After their initial meeting, Paul hopes to stay in contact with his kids. Laser was unimpressed with him but Joni really wants to form a relationship with him but both decide to keep this from their mothers, at least, for a while.

After a misunderstanding about his sexuality, Laser winds up telling his moms that he had met his father. They are both surprised and a little upset but decide that they should at least meet this man if the kids are going to continue contact with him.

Although Nic is a little icy towards Paul, they all have a nice dinner together and later Paul even decides to hire Jules to design the back yard of his house.

Paul certainly shakes up the household with the kids liking their father's loose and easy-going attitude compared to their more strict house rules while Jules enjoys all of the attention he gives her that Nic has been too busy to do. Unfortunately, Paul's desire to force his way in to this ready-made family and his lack of boundaries effects the family in a way that could potentially tear them apart.

"The Kids Are All Right" is hilarious, charming and has well defined characters with all the emotions and flaws that people recognize and can relate to. It wisely chose not to deal with the political aspects of the issue of gay parenting and kept the focus strictly on the relationships within the family.  I found it so refreshing that this film deals with the lives of gay people and yet they're being gay is not the focus of the story.

I was thrilled that two of my favorite actresses were in the same movie together and they make a terrific team. Ms Bening, who has given many fine performances over her film career, is the stand out here. Her Nic shields herself with a sharp tongue and steely exterior but underneath lies a sensitive and vulnerable woman. Ms Bening may have the more showy part but Ms Moore's Jules is the emotional center of their family. She is very good as Jules is trying to rediscover herself after many years of happily giving her life over to her family but is desperate for a little recognition from her partner. Both of these ladies should be remembered during Oscar season.

I never gave too much thought before about Mr. Ruffalo although I was aware he was a solid actor but in this film, he is seen in a way we don't normally get to see him. He is funny, charismatic and very sexy and he effectively plays Paul as a man who has always used his seductive charm to his advantage but causes a lot of damage in the process.

This is a great cast and all of these actors bring their best which includes "America's Next Top Model" runner-up, Yaya DaCosta who gives a nice performance as Tanya, Paul's employee/sleep-over buddy but the real revelation in this film is Ms Wasikowska. She has nice little moments throughout but I thought she was very touching at the end as she held back tears as she watches her family drive away after dropping her off at college. Her appearance in Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" earlier this year I think only gave audiences just a small taste of what this young actress is capable of and I'm certainly interested in what she will do in the future.

Ms Cholodenko has made some very interesting, but not necessarily great films like "High Art" (1998) and "Laurel Canyon" (2002) but with her latest film, she has certainly reached a high point. I think she is helped greatly by the writing what you know philosophy in the semi-autobiographical screenplay she wrote with Mr. Blumberg and together they created a warm, witty and truthful story.

I cannot possibly praise "The Kids Are All Right" enough. I know that people in the big cities will appreciate this wonderful film but I just hope that the citizens in rural America will have an open mind and give it a chance.