Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska,
Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta
- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Focus Features
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he trailers for Lisa Cholodenko’s new film, “The Kids Are All Right,” would have you believe that it’s a laugh-out-loud comedy about two lesbian lovers raising a family in suburban L.A. That description almost makes it sound like some kind of horrible TV sitcom – one in which the lesbian relationship is exploited for laughs – but fortunately, that’s not the case. Instead, it’s a charming, incredibly down-to-Earth portrait of a not-so-typical American family that, while funny at times, isn’t afraid to get its hands a little dirty by exploring more serious issues, either. Though it stumbles a bit in the final act, “The Kids Are All Right” is a solid family drama filled with authentic characters and some great performances from its amazing ensemble cast.
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) may be lesbians, but their family life isn’t that much different from anyone else. They still fight and bicker like any married couple, and their two kids – Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) – are going through the usual struggles of adolescence. But now that Joni is 18, she’s of the legal age to contact her biological father, the sperm donor that her moms used in both of their pregnancies. Though she’s not as eager to meet him as younger brother Laser, Joni agrees to initiate contact as a favor to him before she goes off to college. A laidback restaurateur who agrees to the meet-and-greet with cautious enthusiasm, Paul (Mark Ruffalo) is surprised to discover just how much he likes them, and vice versa. But not everyone is happy about his new role in the family, and when he begins to affect the way that people are acting, it causes a rift in Nic and Jules' relationship.
One of the best things about Cholodenko’s film is the way in which this relationship is presented. It’s very rarely played for laughs – apart from an early scene involving the couple watching gay male porn – and although there’s controversy surrounding the marriage, it has nothing to do with fact that they're lesbians. Of course, there are some eccentricities that come with having same-sex parents (namely, the awkward phrasing of something like “our moms’ donor”), but for the most part, the family dynamic remains unchanged. The parents are still overbearing and worrisome, and the kids are at that age where they’re trying to grow as individuals. In short, they all feel like real people, and that’s thanks not only to the writing, but to the performances by all of the actors.
Though Wasikowska and Hutcherson both get their moments to shine, it’s the adults who really elevate the material beyond the page. Annette Bening is great as the control freak who feels threatened by Paul’s arrival, and Julianne Moore brings a playful energy to the role of her easygoing partner, but it’s Mark Ruffalo who steals the show. Entering the film oozing with machismo, Ruffalo has never been better, nor more perfectly cast, as the sensitive ladies man. All of the characters have a real genuine quality to them that makes the story more relatable, but Ruffalo goes the extra mile in making Paul such a likeable dude, even if he’s the catalyst for most of the conflict in the story. But it’s exactly this conflict that makes “The Kids Are All Right” hit so close to home, and though the transition from the more lighthearted first half to the big emotional climax could have been executed more gracefully, it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise great American movie.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
It might be one of the best reviewed films of the year, but you wouldn’t know it based on its surprisingly lackluster Blu-ray release. The audio commentary with director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko is a nice addition, but the other three featurettes – “The Journey to Forming a Family,” “The Making of The Kids Are All Right” and “The Writer’s Process” – are far too short (they total a whopping 10 minutes) to say anything of real interest.