Strong writing supported by the best actresses not named Meryl Streep
Marriage is an institution that affects all who engage in the practice. The Kids Are All Right focuses its attention on a lesbian marriage, which in and of itself makes for topical conversation. But the film isn’t about the act of gay marriage per se; it’s about the challenges that spring up in all marriages; the problems are universal to couples that may be straight, gay or of mixed races.
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play the married couple of nineteen years, Nic and Jules. Set in Southern California, they live a bohemian-hipster lifestyle and have imparted that way of life to their two children, Joni (Alice in Wonderland‘s Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), both of whom were the result of their moms using the same anonymous sperm donor. You would think having two moms would be hard for Joni and Laser, and maybe it was when they were younger. But they’re in their teens and are adjusted to the whole two moms thing. As for their parents, they’re far from okay. They aren’t even all right. Nic is a doctor. For the sake of the family unit, Jules, the hippy and more laid back of the two, has been regulated to the position of stay-at-home mom. Now that the kids are older, however, she wants to branch out – maybe try landscape gardening.
The family dynamic, already on shaky ground with Jules’ little mid-life crisis and the occasional lovers spat, is about to get rocked when the children decide to seek their birth father. Paul (Mark Ruffalo) is his name and he is of that hippy mentality like Jules. The onetime liberal arts major – the mitigating factor in why Nic and Jules chose his sperm – is a college dropout turned restaurateur, serving food he cultivates organically. His approach to life is more laissez faire than anything else. He’s neither been married nor bared any more children. He thinks everything’s cool: meeting his kids and their lesbian parents; even attending a family dinner is cool. Paul speaks like he never graduated high school let alone attended college. And his manner of speak is one of the best things about The Kids Are All Right.
Capturing the nuances of how people talk, not just as they appear as characters, is difficult to achieve. Lisa Cholodenko, who also wrote and directed High Art and Laurel Canyon, was in a writing funk when she had a kismet meeting with friend and screenwriter Stuart Blumberg (Keeping the Faith). Lisa, the beneficiary of an anonymous sperm donor, and Stuart, himself a parent, worked together to make a comedy that tries to be as organic as the food that Paul grows. Situations that are comical are fine, especially if it’s in the form of flippant observances; the best of which is during a family dinner where Paul stops himself before uttering a curse word in front of Joni and Laser.
There’s a romantic triangle that arises between the two moms and Paul. The fact that Paul cheats with a lesbian mother isn’t the issue. Nic and Jules could have been a man and wife and the act could have still occurred. Cheating is cheating. Somebody always gets hurt in the end. It’s not like it was Paul’s intent to sabotage Nic and Jules’ marriage. It just happened. Plus it’s only half his fault.
To see who the characters are and not just how they react, this is Cholodenko’s intent. She accomplishes this by obtaining the services of the two best actresses not named Meryl Streep. The part of Jules was specifically written with Julianne Moore in mind. This was after her and Cholodenko met at a luncheon and Moore politely brought up why she never saw the script for High Art. She plays Jules as a free spirit who is the heart of the story. Annette Bening underpins Nic’s progressiveness. She supplies the mind. The kids supply the soul. And Paul, well, he’s Paul: a guy who shouldn’t expect a “World’s Greatest Dad” coffee cup.
Every year there’s that one independent film that critics like to rally behind. The Kids Are All Alright, released as a cure-all to a summer full of special effects and cacophonous explosions, looks to be it. Considering that movies about marriage are few and far between, it’s worth a look. With a talented ensemble, extending all the way down to the kids, Wasikowska and Hutcherson, the comedy shows that all marriages, even those with same-sex parents, experience the same ups-and-downs.
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Notable Cast: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
Writer(s): Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg