The Kids are All Right (2010)

24 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

(Originally reviewed mid-2010, hence the hopes for Academy Award notice…which it got)

The kids lead somewhat normal lives. One of them has just graduated from high school and is starting off to college soon. The other, younger kid is a well-natured jock whose best friend happens to be the wrong kind of friend to hang around with. But the kid doesn’t know it yet. These kids are nice, well-natured, and like regular kids, they have some issues. The issue they’ve lived with their entire lives is that they are the children of a lesbian couple. They’re half-siblings because each mother gave birth to them with the same anonymous sperm donor used. All their lives they’ve been trying to live normally but it’s hard. They love their moms, nonetheless. But they can’t help but wonder what their biological father is like and who he is.

The kids are 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska, “Alice in Wonderland”) and 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson, “Bridge to Terabithia”). Joni is the one who is going to college and has written a paper in high school about donors. Therefore, she could figure out who donated the sperm that their moms took. Laser is desperate—he wants to know who the father is and this may be his only chance. He looks to his sister for help—“I’ve never asked you for anything.” So Joni contacts the sperm bank to track down the father, who happens to be Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a chill, hippie-type gardener who sells organic food at the local market. His persona is like, “Yeah, you know, that’s cool, man.”

Joni arranges for her and Laser to meet with Paul and this leads to an awkward but funny scene in which they sit down and have a talk with each other. It’s not long before the kids want to see Paul again but there’s one catch—he has to have lunch with the whole family, the order of one of the moms. So they do and this sets up a series of complicated relationships between the family members and Paul.

The lesbian couple are Nic (Annette Bening), a doctor who is very strict in the house, and Jules (Julianne Moore, who is unfocused and doesn’t know what to do with herself. They love each other and perform nasty sexual activities, which are not exaggerated but still pretty disturbing to anyone who doesn’t approve of this kind of activity. They watch gay-man-porn. But there is something happening lately. This happens to all adults. They are experiencing midlife crisis. And with Paul around, it doesn’t make matters much better. Jules is already thinking of trying new things. What she tries may jeopardize the lifestyle of the family. The kids may be all right, but the adults aren’t.

The family life may be imperfect but it’s somewhat stable. (At one point, Laser says to the moms he’s going out. One of the moms asks for a hug and Laser scoffs, “Hug her. That’s what she’s there for.”) This is what makes “The Kids are All Right” very convincing. The people in this movie are just regular people. They could be your relatives, your next-door neighbors, your friends. You may know them or you may seem them around every once in a while. This is the kind of independent film about people in the world that reminds me of “Juno.” Both movies focus on people who think they have situations played out by themselves but they don’t really know what to do or how to go through with them. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. But in the end, you feel something for the characters. By the end of “The Kids are All Right,” I felt satisfied that the story unfolded in a convincing way and there are no loose ends.

This is one of the best movies of the year. The cast is absolutely perfect. Julianne Moore is fantastic at playing the complicated Jules, Annette Bening goes as far with the strictness without overselling it, Mark Ruffalo is the best character in the movie (the way he talks and has insights about his own life are outstanding), and Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson are two of the brightest, appealing, most convincing teenagers in movie history. All of these actors deserve Oscar nominations. The direction by Lisa Cholodenko is sharp and bright—her previous films were “High Art” and “Laurel Canyon.” And the writing is fantastic. I love the scene where the moms confront Laser about what he was doing lately and fear he might be gay. This talk they have with him is greatly written and acted that I wouldn’t be surprised if, just for that scene, this film gets a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. But there are a lot of great scenes—Laser and Paul talking about being buried or cremated, Jules telling Paul that she sees Laser’s expressions in his face, Jules and Nic confronting each other after a revealing moment of truth, the lunch talk the family has with Paul, and many more.

“The Kids are All Right” is a great film—one of the best films of the year, as I’ve said already. I will not call it a “gay film.” This is just a movie about complicated characters facing complicated situations and learning how to deal with them. And with Mark Ruffalo’s Paul, we see a different side of a character we’ve seen before—offbeat yet casual and pleasant—in a movie that deserves Academy Award notice.

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