The Kids Are All Right
- Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
- Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
- Starring Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo
- Classification: 18A
Somewhere around the halfway mark, the realization arrives with a dull thud: Turns out that unconventional families can be just as tedious in their melodramatic dysfunctions as any traditional clan. And if that's the message Lisa Cholodenko means to impart in The Kids Are All Right, give her full marks. She has succeeded in making interesting differences look boringly familiar.
First, the primary difference. Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) are a long-time lesbian couple with two teenage children between them, one born to each mother from the same anonymous donor at the local sperm bank. Set generically in California, the establishing scenes show them to be a happy and loving bunch, with no more than the usual quota of familial tensions. A doctor and the main breadwinner, Nic is a bit of a control freak, while Jules has flirted with various careers but gone steady with none. Landscape gardening is her latest passion.
As for the kids, they are indeed all right. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is an A-student soon heading off to college; her younger sibling, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), is a good and good-hearted lad. Normal too, after all the years, is a certain fatigue in the parental bedroom, although a stash of porn sometimes helps to kick-start the libido - in this case, the gay male brand seems to do the trick. Chancing upon the stash, Laser (okay, that handle definitely strays from the norm) is puzzled by their choice, but this is nothing if not a household that shares information - the "Moms" patiently explain to him the counter-intuitive workings of their sexual nature.
Speaking of shared info, it's time for the premise to engage. In two of her earlier features ( High Art and Laurel Canyon), Cholodenko has shown a fondness for injecting potentially volatile strangers into the domestic mix. Ditto here, when the teens decide to seek out their donor father and find him in the affable person of Paul (Mark Ruffalo). A successful restaurateur, and a shaggy bachelor partial to serial relationships and fast motorbikes, he's curious about his offspring yet careful not to overstep his bounds. Cue the awkward meetings, first with the kids and then with the moms. You might have expected some tense sparks but, no, matters go swimmingly. Everyone likes Paul, and Paul likes everyone.
Oops, then Jules starts liking Paul rather too much, although their bouts of adulterous sex are mostly played for bawdy comedy. Unfortunately, Cholodenko reserves the earnestness for the inevitable rows back home, where the disputants tend to say things like, "Maybe it hasn't risen to the plane of consciousness for you yet," or, "I know it will take you a while to process your feelings about this." Actually, no - don't mean to boast, but I processed my feelings right quick, even while juggling a succession of unsuppressed yawns.
The only wonder here is that the actors are so uniformly strong - Ruffalo and Wasikowska especially - that they do their director the immense favour of elevating her dialogue to near-respectability. Cholodenko casts much better than she writes. Yet, alas, even a talented veteran like Moore can't sell a hoary line like, "Sometimes you hurt the ones you love the most." Maybe if she'd set it to music - nope, sorry, that's already been done.
Admittedly, the resolution is interesting, mainly because of what it doesn't do. Most scripts tie up loose ends; some deliberately leave them dangling. Yet this sweeps the biggest loose end right out of the frame and under the carpet, not only gone but, apparently, forgotten too. Then again, when domestic melodrama turns tedious, maybe that's a kindness to one and all.