Lisa Cholodenko directs The Kids Are All Right, a mainstream comedy drama about modern family life.
The film centers on Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening), a strained lesbian couple living in the suburbs of California, who each gave birth to one of their children using a sperm donor.
When the eldest child, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) turns eighteen, her brother, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) asks her to initiate contact with their biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an attractive, single, laid-back restaurateur
Each of the family members respond to Paul in different ways: free-spirited Jules welcomes him with open arms; head of the family Nic grits her teeth; Joni hits it off with him straight away; while Laser almost rejects him and his self-centered attitude.
The partnership between Moore’s Jules and Benning’s Nic is pitch-perfect. Their personalities are vastly different, but appear to work well together. It’s only during the film as events reach a head that the true reality of their relationship is exposed. Both actresses handle the material beautifully, forming an understandable, and wholly believable, lesbian couple.
Ruffalo delivers one of his most under-stated, yet dignified performances, displaying a range of emotions through the body of an often immature and underdeveloped man. Paul breaks the equilibrium, forcing each character, in turn, to re-address their position within the family.
Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson as the children, Joni and Laser respectively, both provide clever and self-assured performances. Wasikowska in particular, in that tricky second film, shows she’s blossoming into a fine adolescent actress.
Cholodenko’s direction is superb, using the correct lighting and camera shots to add meaning and depth to each of her scenes and character profiles. Despite sometimes verging on static, she always manages to pull it back, the sign of a truly exceptional director.
The screenplay is well executed. Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg are able to find the perfect balance between humour and afflicting, allowing viewers to empathise with each character, never influencing our interpretation. Cholodenko’s personal experience with sperm donation quite clearly had an influence on the film’s narrative, but the film evidently benefits from the personal touch, managing to avoid common clichés and melodrama.
By exploring an experimental model of family, Cholodenko bravely introduces viewers to subject matter not normally addressed within Hollywood films. While this may put off some people, it’s something those willing to accept should celebrate.
A subplot focusing on Laser’s friendship with wayward skater Clay feels unnecessary, and the kids’ parts often feel slightly less integral than that of the adult trio. However, these are minor pitfalls, and never detract from the overall enjoyment or meaning of the film.
In all honesty, The Kids Are All Right a fantastic film, exuding charm, wit, love, insecurity and anguish at every appropriate corner. In essence, it’s a film about the struggles of human relationships, and shows a family’s love has the potential to overcome any obstacle. It’s certainly one of the finer films of the year.