We live in uncertain cinematic times. Hollywood is more or less limping along, rebooting/remaking/reimagining as they please, with the minority of filmmakers fighting the system to tell original stories with unique characters. Everything that I've just stated, I realized after watching The Kids Are All Right.
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a lesbian couple raising two children, whom they each had by artificial insemination. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) has just turned 18 and is preparing for college, while her younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) lacks a certain sense of direction. What he does want is to meet their biological father (Mark Ruffalo) - something that Joni can now facilitate, being of legal age.
As with most of my reviews, I'm not going to go into much further detail when it comes to the plot. In this case, it's because that's really all you need to know. Director and co-writer Lisa Cholodenko paints a very unconventional family portrait, and I must applaud her for not only that, but also for doing so without imitating or feeling cheap. These characters feel like real people - yes, even the kid named Laser.
Obviously most of the dramatic heavy lifting goes to Bening and Moore, and that's understandable. Nic is a Type-A successful doctor, whose critical nature is paralleled only by her constant thirst for wine. Meanwhile, Jules is an urban hippie with a newly-created landscaping company and enough "good vibes" to keep (almost) everyone smiling. I adored how seemingly mismatched they seemed as a couple, but saw the beautiful truth as the movie went on - their differences are what make them so perfectly paired for one another. When bio-dad Paul enters their lives, the entire family dynamic gets thrown for a loop. Change isn't easy, and I liked the brutal honesty of the film's conflicts.
Since the movie is kinda/sorta about them, I have to say a few things about Joni and Laser. You've probably only seen Mia Wasikowska in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland previously, as Alice. Here she really gets to shine as an actress, and here is where I really decided I liked her. Joni is your standard over-achieving wallflower, but the richness of the character really comes through when she's surrounded by other characters. Whether it's her slutty best friend (Zosha Mamet!), her brother or her Moms, Wasikowska is a young adult remarkably adept at playing a young adult.
And then there's Laser. Sigh. I pretty much fell in love with him from the opening credits (thanks for looking the way you do, Josh Hutcherson), but he really plays the rebellious teen in a whole new way. That is, with the added dimension of "Laser Has Two Mommies". Hutcherson's portrayal of his relationship with his family is nuanced, and I would even go so far as to say that it's unlike anything we've ever seen before. There's a kind of undercurrent of love and respect just beneath the prickly teenager surface...and he's adorable. I have to say it again. That, and that he'll be 18 in 3 months.
Obviously the catalyst to everything in this film is the "interloper", Paul. Mark Ruffalo is by far at his most Ruffalo-iest, and it fits the part beautifully. I hear that originally it was supposed to be Paul Rudd, and - as much as I love him, too - I just can't see it here. He earns different levels of respect and ire from Nic, Jules, Joni and Laser, some by his own fault and others not so much. He's a self-satisfied but self-successful man child that could charm the pants off of anyone, and you'll see him do just that...with mixed results.
The Kids Are All Right is a film that I hope sets a standard. The comedy never comes at the expense of the story, and neither do the serious moments. When Annette Bening announces at a restaurant that "If I hear one more person talk about how much they love heirloom tomatoes, I'm going to kill myself" it's pretty much impossible not to laugh. And when Julianne Moore's Jules sits her family down for an emotional mea culpa, I was completely lost in the scene. I've been on the receiving end of that talk, and it's difficult (to say the least) for all parties involved. The emotions displayed throughout this film are just so unmistakably...genuine.
Everyone involved (including my dear friend Eric) is responsible for giving the world a beautiful depiction of a family that is underrepresented in film these days - a modern one. This isn't a movie about lesbians, or sperm donors, or kids with funny names. The Kids Are All Right is a family portrait in multiple mediums, and one that I will call - without hesitation - a masterpiece.