The Kids Are All Right finds an interesting balance between the revolutionary and the conventional. In a way, it's a fairly typical family comedy-drama. But it just so happens that the family is headed by two moms.
The movie is charming and slightly annoying, expertly made but a little too slick and enamored of its unconventionality. "He just seems so self-satisfied," says Nic, Annette Bening's sharp-tongued doctor played, after meeting Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the free-spirited restaurateur whose sperm donation fathered the kids she has with wife Jules (Julianne Moore). She could be talking about the movie, which simultaneously revels in and rails against political correctness.
Co-written by director Lisa Cholodenko and ex-Clevelander Stuart Blumberg, the story is set in motion by the couple's daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska), who's turning 18 and old enough to contact donor Paul on behalf of younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson), who seems to yearn for a father.
The kids are initially captivated by the easygoing, unconventional Paul, who dropped out of college, grows organic vegetables, and rides a cool BMW motorcycle. Nic mistrusts this stranger ("You're an interloper!" she tells him), but reluctantly allows him into the family circle, with dramatic and predictable results.
The Kids Are All Right relies heavily on sitcom tropes, like when Nic and Jules catch Laser (who they think might be gay) watching an all-male porn video they have stashed in their nightstand. But even this goofiness is forgivable, because the movie offers unusually realistic views of female sexuality. When the baffled Laser asks his moms why they watch male-on-male porn, Jules' elaborate, embarrassed explanation sounds drawn from real life ("human sexuality is complex ...").
This is not a lesbian movie designed to titillate; it's a human drama about relationships and evolving definitions of family. Nic and Jules' problems are like those in any marriage (Jules' aimless career, Nic's controlling personality and excessive wine tippling). That idea is brought home when Nic tells Paul, who has thoughts of running off with one of the women, "This is not your family. This is my family."
None of this would work half as well without the perfect casting and superb performances. Ruffalo's woozy, beatific demeanor has seldom been used better. Bening is a kaleidoscope of toughness and vulnerability. And Moore is affecting as the conflicted Jules. Igor Jadire-Lillo's skillful cinematography caresses Bening's facial lines and Moore's freckles, underscoring another of the movie's endearing qualities: It's a romance about middle-aged people — not very glamorous, but beautiful nonetheless.
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