Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are worth the price of admission to The Kids Are All Right all by themselves, as far as I’m concerned. That the film is so smart and entertaining is icing on the cake.
I expect savvy storytelling from Lisa Cholodenko, who wrote and directed High Art and Laurel Canyon, which gave juicy, colorful roles to Patricia Clarkson and Frances McDormand, respectively. She’s done the same for her newest, high-profile leading ladies, casting them as a longtime married couple who have raised two good kids, now 15 (Josh Hutcherson) and 18 (Mia Wasikowska). It’s clear the teens have grown up in a loving environment, but they’re curious to learn the identity of the man who donated the sperm that—
—brought them to life. They pursue this without telling their moms and actually meet the guy, an organic farmer and restaurant owner played by Mark Ruffalo. That’s where the plot thickens.
Cholodenko, who wrote the screenplay with Stuart Blumberg, generates a good many laughs through simple, observational humor about the quirks and foibles of family life. Much of this could be set in a more traditional household, and that’s the beauty of The Kids Are All Right. It isn’t a polemic: it’s a piece of entertainment. It doesn’t duck the circumstance or the particulars of same-sex marriage, but it’s treated as an ingredient of the story, not the story itself.
Having actresses who can play every note, every color of these well-defined characters is a treat. Bening is the more serious of the two partners: responsible, career-minded, a perfectionist. Moore is a gentler soul, a woman who’s never really settled on a profession. They make a good couple, though the strains of their long-term relationship begin to show during the course of the story.
The kids’ roles are just as well written and performed. The 15-year-old is still a work in progress, while Wasikowska (whom you may have seen in the leading role of Alice in Wonderland earlier this year) is on the cusp of adulthood, just about to leave the nest for college and resentful that she’s still treated like a child.
Mark Ruffalo completes the picture as the man who’s unattached, yet surprisingly ready to become part of the family. His sudden presence affects each of the other characters in an individual way, prompting a variety of responses, not all of them healthy. The tone of the movie subtly changes as the issues grow more serious, but Cholodenko never missteps, and the results are both poignant and believable. Here is yet another indie movie that puts Hollywood’s bloated blockbusters to shame this summer. Go see it.