Roommate Dan continued his cinematic generosity yesterday by bringing me along to a screening of the family dramedy The Kids Are All Right. Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, and directed by Ms. Cholodenko, the movie is, at base, conventional kitchen sink drama, albeit with a contemporary and unconventional spin. It’s serious without taking itself seriously; though the director owes this balance of levity and gravitas entirely to her outstanding cast, who elevate material that in other hands would be trite melodrama.
The Kids Are All Right starts its focus on the titular kids: siblings Joni, a brainy but restrained high school senior, and Laser, her younger and somewhat wayward brother. The kids have the same father, but different mothers. Joni was born to Nic, a type-A surgeon, and Laser was born to her partner, Jules, a laid-back free spirit. Despite sharing his DNA, the kids have never known anything of their sperm donor father, and have had a happy, healthy upbringing with their moms. But the occasion of Joni’s 18th birthday, and the legal opportunities it presents, are too much for their curiosity. After some snooping and carefully placed phone calls, Joni and Laser track down their dad, Paul, an affable loner who runs his own farm and restaurant. When word gets out to the moms, the film shifts its focus largely to the adults, as Nic, Jules, and Paul try to understand what place–if any–they have in each other’s lives.
There are some predictable twists and turns along the way. The characters are clearly yet broadly drawn. The script sacrifices some of its earlier wit and authenticity for some Oscar bait moments in the second half. But despite this, the film still floats. It makes no attempt to wrap everything up cleanly. It never gets preachy about marriage, adoption, or parenting among gay and lesbian families. And even the clumsier dialogue comes out polished in the talented hands (or is it mouths?) of this wonderful cast. There is no denying the chemistry that freely and believably flows among these actors. Mia Wasikowska ( as Joni) and Josh Hutcherson (as Laser) are two of the more promising young actors I’ve seen of late. I have no doubt of the critical praise that will follow the adult leads–the always reliable Julianne Moore (as Jules), the underrated Mark Ruffalo (as Paul), and the criminally underworked Annette Bening (as Nic).
I’d recommend The Kids Are All Right, perhaps more for the performances than the story. It’s impressive to watch people do something so difficult so effortlessly.
Check out the trailer…