The Kids Are All Right is the new film written and directed by Lisa Cholidenko. It stars Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as Jules and Nic, a couple who have had a son and daughter through the same sperm donor, Mark Ruffalo as Paul, a new-agey playboy organic farmer (every actor’s dream role).
The kids, Laser and Joni (played by Josh Hutcherson and Alice in Wonderland‘s Mia Wasikowska), unbeknownst to their moms, seek out their biological father which turns their previously mildly dysfunctional family into chaos. Not least because when the couple reluctantly agree to meet Paul, he immediately strikes up a rapport with Jules which leads to an affair and much heartbreak.
Like one of Bening’s previous films, American Beauty, family dysfuntion raises its ugly head at the dinner table in The Kids Are All Right– the site where, with everyone gathered, all can be witness to the covering and uncovering of secrets, infidelities and mishaps. And whilst, in the film, these scenes can be the source of awkward comedy – with Nic and Jules recounting the embarrassing story of how they both met and fell in love at university when nurse Nic helped Jules get feeling back in her tongue – they can also be the locus of uneasy tragedy and devastating revelations. The moment when Nic discovers Jules and Paul’s affair is captured with painful elegance as she returns to the dinner table, silence flooding her now shattered perception of the dinner scene. After all, this wasn’t just any guy Jules cheated with. He is the father of both their children – as odd as that may sound.
Indeed, what is so good about the film is that it doesn’t patronisingly portray this non-traditional family unit as anything other than the norm. It deals in worries and strains any relationship might have, particularly evident in the film’s closing section when Nic and Jules have to come to terms with their daughter leaving home for college. All the while Cholidenko’s camera omnisciently observes the suburban scene, capturing the family and the equally comic and tragic incidents that befall them.
It’s well performed throughout. Moore, in any film, is a consistently beguiling presence, and Hutcherson and Wasikowska both effectively convey teenage rebellion from their mothers’ incessant molly-coddling. But it is Bening and Ruffalo that deserve the most praise. She’s consistently funny as an over-bearing mother, badgering Laser to write ‘thank you’ cards and heaping pressure on Joni to succeed at her studies. But the moment of anguish she experiences after her discovery strikes that most difficult of balancing acts between comedy and tragedy and Bening moves freely between both poles.
Mark Ruffalo, similarly, does a good job of making his none-too-likeable motorbike riding lothario sympathetic, so that when Paul explains to Laser that he donated sperm because he thought that it would be more fun than giving blood, you’re not sure whether he’s being serious or breaking a moment of tension with an ill-judged joke.
The Kids Are All Right is better than alright. It is both a charmingly funny and emotionally poignant portrayal of a rather dysfunctional postmodern family, that features pitch-perfect performances and a script brimming with wit and heartache.