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The Kids Are All Right

A modern family struggles to maintain balance in this pitch-perfect comedy.


The Kids Are All Right (R)

The latest work to come from director Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon) is everything you could hope for from an indie film. The Kids Are All Right offers a spot-on portrait of a contemporary lifestyle, stellar acting and pitch-perfect comedy. Cholodenko, who co-wrote the script, incorporates so many detailed nuances of a present-day family she might have been making a documentary. The brilliance is in her masterful sleight of hand. From every angle, the filmmaker explores traditional issues tackled in everyman households—but this one is helmed by a pair of lesbians, portrayed by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore.

Both actors so authentically inhabit their characters that watching them unfold on the big screen is a purely pleasing entertainment experience. Uber-talented Bening, as Nic, is a type A gynecologist who finds relaxation in a teensy bit too much vino each evening at her Southern California home. The actress long ago cast aside glamour in favor of depth, and wears her hair short and spiky in this role, her glasses with decidedly masculine frames. She’s confidently independent at her core. Nic's “wife,” Jules (Moore), is the hippie of the two, a little uncertain, a little goofy and just loose enough to be wild. She’s mostly a stay-at-home mom, though she's trying her hand at starting a side landscaping business.

Nic and Jules have two teenage kids who are both smart and handsome: The college-bound Joni, played by Mia Wasikowska, is inquisitive in a harmless way, while the ever-sincere Laser (Josh Hutcherson), 15, is starting to associate along the edges of the wrong crowd. The parents of these kids share the banter of solid long-together pairs whose relationship could use some sparks. Similar to many upwardly mobile urban couples, their lives center around the children. And, like the title of the film, all’s fine until Joni and Laser seek out their biological “donor” father and the family dynamic gets complicated.

Paul, played by the adorable Mark Ruffalo, plows into the family's sedate life with about as much finesse as a football player. Raucous and unmarried, he’s a high school dropout-turned-restaurateur who has little sensitivity about how his presence affects the kids, the moms and the clan’s long-honed balance. Nic and Jules’s efforts to handle it all is the stuff of high-quality dramedy, and, oh my, it sure is fun to watch.

But what’s really great about The Kids Are All Right is that the film doesn’t ask you to take a stand on gay marriage. It also doesn’t present its gay characters as curiosities, in the way that, say, the otherwise brilliant Brokeback Mountain did. The real themes here—marital fidelity, teen angst, familial complications—are universal, and Cholodenko deserves high fives for so fluidly working them into an “alternative” backdrop.