The Kids Are All Right


Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Written by:Lisa Cholodenko
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
Released: September 2, 2010
Grade: B

Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore) are a lesbian couple who have been together for over 20 years.  They live in Los Angeles and have two children.  Joni (Wasikowska) is an intelligent 18-year-old on the verge of going to college.  Laser (Hutcherson) is an athletic 15-year-old who loves team sports.  They are a happy family… or so it would seem.

For a while now, Joni and Laser have been curious to know the identity of their biological father.  All they’ve been told is that their mothers received sperm from the same anonymous donor.  After snooping through some old records at home, they get in touch with the sperm bank and subsequently, their father.  His name is Paul (Ruffalo) and he’s currently running an organic restaurant.

One of the best scenes in the film is where Joni and Laser meet Paul for the first time.  It’s so incredibly awkward.  No one knows what to say.  No one knows to do.  It’s come as a huge shock to Paul who didn’t even know that his sperm had been used.  Never married and somewhat of a commitment phobe, he’s trying to grasp the reality that he fathered two children.

Over the next few weeks, the family dynamic will be thrown into chaos.  Paul realises that these kids are great and wants to spend more time with them.  How can he do this without dividing the existing family?  Joni and Laser are asking questions of their own.  Do they want their biological dad to be part of their lives?  Caught in the middle are Nic and Jules.  They’re upset that their children’s father has been brought into the mix but they don’t want to be seeing as pushing him away.

The Kids Are All Right was one of the big hits of the Sundance Film Festival back in January.  It’s performed strongly at the U.S. box-office (grossing over $18m to date) and there’s talk of Oscar nominations for the cast and crew.  I know I’m going to be in the minority but I confess to feeling a slight letdown on leaving the cinema.

Whilst there are some great individual sequences (such as the Joni-Laser-Paul intro above), I felt the film didn’t add up to much.  It’s as if it’s trying to cover too much material.  There’s a subplot involving Laser’s problematic relationship with his best friend.  There’s another subplot involving Paul and his current girlfriend who works at his restaurant.  It’s not that I didn’t like these additional storylines.  It’s just that (1) they were undeveloped, and (2) more interesting at times than the major plot.  The ending left me hollow too.

Of the performances, I’m going to single out the younger stars – Mia Wasikowska (Alice In Wonderland) and Josh Hutcherson (Bridge To Terabithia).  I’m a fan of both actors and I think they look incredibly natural on screen.  Mark Ruffalo is strong too.  I was less impressed with Julianne Moore and Annette Bening.  Whilst they’re doing it for effect, I didn’t like the way they over-dramatised key emotions.  I also tired of the running gag involving Bening’s character and her “love” for wine.

All of that said, I’m still giving The Kids Are All Right a marginal thumbs up.  I didn’t take a lot away from the film but there are some wonderfully uncomfortable scenes that make it worth seeing.