Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

But what about the grown-ups?

Image: Focus Features

The Kids Are All Right has been released on Halloween weekend in the UK, presumably to provide an alternative for non-horror fans. I’m not sure whether this will hurt or hinder its chances at the box office, but it’s a film that should have an impressively broad appeal.

One month before she leaves home to go to college, at the urging of her younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson), Joni (Mia Wasikowska) calls the man who donated sperm to her two mums, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore). The man turns out to be handsome laid-back restaurateur Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Paul gets more and more involved in their lives, as Nic and Jules’ relationship becomes increasingly strained.

Films with unconventional families often run the risk of overstating their difference to other run-of-the-mill comedy-dramas, culminating in a scene in which the characters remind themselves that they aren’t like other people and hey, that’s OK. So it’s a relief that writer/director Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon) instead opts for a more relaxed, realistic approach. Jules and Nic’s family issues aren’t presented as more or less difficult because of their sexuality. They are just presented.

Cholodenko’s script is tender but often terrifically funny and genuine. Paul’s reaction to being informed his sperm went to two women is spot-on, telling Joni “I love lesbians” while grimacing at his own stupidity, while a scene in which Jules and Nic have to explain to their son why they have a gay male porn DVD is hilariously awkward. Bening and Moore make a very convincing married couple, obviously very much in love but starting to become irritated by each other’s flaws. Nic is career-oriented, more uptight, and is starting to drink a bit too much. Jules is laidback, about to start on her third career venture, and is more obviously affectionate. The two complement each other well, until the arrival of Paul prompts examination of their differences.

Ruffalo is on a roll at the moment with excellent turns in Shutter Island and The Brothers Bloom, and he’s perfectly cast as Paul, the kind of chilled-out 21st century hippie that chilled out 21st century hippies aspire to be. Paul may cause chaos and trouble but his good intentions make him impossible to dislike. He’s not looking to be a bother; he’s just trying to be a parent. The kids are great too. Wasikowska, stunning on HBO’s In Treatment, but probably better known for being Tim Burton’s Alice, is great as the sensitive Joni, while Hutcherson (Journey to the Center of the Earth) plays the quiet Laser with just the right combination of teenage indifference and desire for affection.

The Kids Are All Right subverts the expectations of those who would assume a film about same-sex parents would be consciously edgy or used as a political soap-box. It’s a tender, funny, and charming film that loves its characters. It’s a little too long, and it could have spent a little more time developing Nic, while Waskikoswa in particular is a bit hard done by in terms of screen-time, but this is definitely worth a watch.

A funny and moving comedy-drama with superb performances that deserves a big audience.



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