Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Lisa Cholodenko

Cast: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta, Eddie Hassell

MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use)

Running Time: 1:44

Release Date: 7/9/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 8, 2010

There is one complication among the many that hit the most modern family of The Kids Are All Right that rings false, and it's a pretty big one. It's enough of one to call into question co-writer/director Lisa Cholodenko's otherwise rich characterizations, genuine portrayal of confusing and confused emotions, and dedication to presenting an alternative family without compromise.

Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) are the matriarchs of the family. They have two kids, daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and son Laser (Josh Hutcherson), who are technically half-brother and sister—she born of Nic and he of Jules—but the kids only point that out for trivia. Joni and Laser refer to their parents as moms, as in, "It'll hurt moms' feelings," and it's never a question of quirkiness or the content of a joke. It is simply how these kids talk in reference to their mothers.

Early on, there's a scene at the dinner table. Nic has returned from work as a doctor. Jules wants to start her own landscaping business. Joni is on her way to college. Laser has just gotten high with his friend Clay (Eddie Hassell). How was work? Is it a good idea to start a new business? What else needs to be bought for the dorm? Isn't there anyone better to hang out with other than Clay?

These are the questions they have for each other, and the conversations follow suit. On the page, it must read like any "traditional" family scene would; on screen, it's entirely refreshing.

Another question comes up from Laser to his sister: Doesn't she want to meet their biological father? She isn't curious to know about the man whose sperm benefited each of their moms' pregnancies, but Laser is. She's 18, and he's too young to legally make such an inquiry. Joni makes the phone call to the donation center.

Meanwhile, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), that man, who 19 years ago went to the donation center to make some necessary cash, is opening his own restaurant. He flirts with the female organic farmer serving as his vendors, sleeps with buddy Tanya (Yaya DaCosta) because she doesn't want to make a thing of it, and is coasting through life without many worries of any importance. Then he gets the call from the donation center.

Yes, actually, he would like to meet these kids. They are his but aren't, just like he is their father but isn't. Their first meeting, at his restaurant (He wants them to think he's doing well for himself—that their "old man" isn't a failure), is as incredibly awkward as it should be. There are certain things about them that are familiar, but most of them aren't. Joni is intelligent, while Paul dropped out of school, figuring he'd get a better education from experience and a few, well-chosen books. Of course, school wasn't for him; he's sure she'll love it. Laser is adept at multiple sports, and Paul couldn't reconcile with the concept of a team. Of course, teams weren't for him; he's sure Laser gets a lot out of them.

The kids don't want to tell Nic and Jules about their search for and meeting with Paul, especially when the three decide they'd like to spend more time together, but the couple finds out. Their reaction is as honest as it should be. They want the kids to feel supported in their search for identity, their bond to this man (even if it's only at the genetic level at this point), and their desire to see if the relationship could grow from there. Still, Nic feels betrayed and shunned. "Aren't we enough," she asks Jules, a question that's more a statement of feeling rejected than one in need of an answer.

Cholodenko and co-screenwriter Stuart Blumberg don't sugarcoat the difficulties of the situation in general and allow the specifics of Jules and Nic's family dynamics to complicate certain elements. When Joni finally becomes fed up with Nic's overbearing nature, she scolds her mom for being too concerned with having a perfect lesbian marriage to prove a point and not enough with what's actually happening within it. In an overall exceptional cast, Bening stands out in her reactions to watching her ideal fall apart before her.

Most of the downfall arrives in a problematic turn of events, in which Paul hires Jules as his landscape artist.  She has been feeling unloved (Although we see her and Nic in bed together, watching all-man gay porn, which leads to a scene in which the couple tries to explain to Laser the problem with some so-called lesbian erotica in a meta joke about casting), and Paul is attracted to her. Their relationship is simply one step too far in a film that is too observant of its natural conflict to burden such an artificial one upon the characters.

The script handles the results as sincerely as it can, and one can't help but feel The Kids Are All Right would profit more from using the time spent on the affair expanding upon the real issues Cholodenko and Blumberg raise with these characters. The film, like its central family, succeeds as best it can under the circumstances in which it finds itself.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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