Saturday, November 6, 2010
The Kids Are All Right ***
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Cast: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo
Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
The Kids Are All Right is a sweet little movie about the power of family; each of its quirky twists and turns are precisely studied to deliver an old fashioned adult tale with the spirit of an indie.
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star as Nic and Jules, a lesbian couple who have been together for years and have two children: Joni (Wasikowska) and Laser (Hutcherson).
When Joni turns eighteen she decides it's time to meet their biological father and without much effort finds sperm donor Paul (Ruffalo) who's also Laser's father.
From here the movie follows a summer where Joni prepares to leave for college and Paul becomes an important part of their family.
The film could've easily been about Joni's search and concentrated on her misadventures trying to find this man; however, director Lisa Cholodenko (who co-wrote the screenplay with Stuart Blumberg) is more interested in studying what happens to these people when someone from the outside comes and disrupts their structure.
Structured in a series of situations and events in which we see them together, the film flows smoothly. We see the kids having lunch with Paul, Paul meeting the moms, the kids hanging out with their friends etc. At first the film seems aimless but soon we realize that Cholodenko never really meant to tell a self-contained story. This is a slice of life. These characters' lives are supposed to continue after we leave the theater.
Truth be told this wouldn't be as easy to achieve without the film's terrific cast. Bening gives a beautifully layered performance as the controlling Nic. She's the breadwinner, trying to provide for her family and the actress taps into a restrained melancholy that makes her performance haunting.
The best thing about watching her (and this also goes for the rest of the cast) is how liberated she seems. There is not a single moment in her performance where we catch her acting, Cholodenko seems to have a thing for closeups and Bening's face makes a perfect canvas to deliver all kinds of emotions. Her performance feels truly naked because of the way the actress allows us to get so close that we can count her wrinkles but still she puts resistance for us to get into her soul.
Moore is absolutely brilliant as the free spirited Jules. Watching her with Bening is witnessing pure chemistry. The film sometimes tries too hard to portray them as a perfect equation of opposites attracting and in one of the film's funniest scenes Nic says that while she wants her kids to send out thank you cards, Jules probably would be OK with them sending out good vibes.
In the hands of lesser actresses this sort of relationship would catch fire or just freeze, with Bening and Moore it feels almost familiar.
Some of the best scenes in the film are where we see them at their most intimate, sharing their pet names for each other or just watching TV, they make you feel at home.
This perfectly embodies what the movie usually gets so right and it's the way in which it moves past silly preconceptions about "gay cinema" or groundbreaking territory. Cholodenko usually avoids this feeling of "message movie" and we are left wondering how does she capture the awkwardness of being in a family?
Ruffalo is also great, if he had been trying to become the male sex symbol during the past decade, this movie should get him there. His Paul is a manchild of sorts trying to keep up his business and realizing that it might just be time for him to settle down.
The way in which he tries to be both father and friend to the children is funny and also achy. There are glimpses of regret and sorrow in his performance that we're able to catch when he's not being cool or having sex with women.
Ironically, despite his great work, the film doesn't really feel comfortable when he's around. The Kids Are All Right might've been a flawless movie if it had concentrated more on just the family. This rupture feels too much like a cute episode concocted just for the sake of getting some indie cred (making it fit into the "alternative" families subgenre) but as we learn in the end all that really mattered was what was home all along.