August 7, 2010
Review - " The Kids are All Right " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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when certain indiscretions are revealed and at the same time Joni and Laser deepen their connection to Paul. In the midst of
all these transitions, something has definitely got to give.
It's said that great acting comes from agile reacting. So it's no surprise, then, that Lisa Cholodenko's "The Kids Are All Right"
has such vivid performances.
After all, the comic-tragicomic dramedy about two teenagers seeking out their sperm-donor dad, and causing upheaval for
their moms has no shortage of sublime, ridiculous and authentic opportunities to react to.
Granted, it can't hurt to have the nimble best from Julianne Moore, Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo as the adults who aren't
nearly as grounded as the kids. Youngsters Joni and Laser are beautifully played by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson.
There are stellar performances in this film, elevating
some fairly common screenplay actions. Annette
Bening and Julianne Moore give perfect balance to
their delicate characters, adding a few touches to the
boilerplate that creates the unique family dynamic of
“two mommies.” The kids, Mia Wasikowska (Alice in the
recent “in Wonderland” film) and Josh Hutcherson add
their own spice to the stew, and proceeds with both
caution and curiosity in the dealings with Paul and his
Bening and Moore make Nic and Jules a believable
and appealing couple, with all the highs and dips
long-standing commitment implies. In the romantic
physics of opposites attracting, Nic is the grounded
one, a doctor. And Bening is not afraid to let her be a
Hutcherson is a revelation as Laser. An able kid actor in films that clearly didn't ask enough of him, he rings true here.
Wasikowska brings a lovely wavering to 18-year-old Joni. Bright and maybe a bit dutiful, Joni spends time with two very
different best friends: quiet guy Jai (Kunal Sharma) and hormone-amped Sasha (scene-stealer Zosia Mamet). Another turn of
note comes from Yaya DaCosta as Paul's sometime paramour.
At the movie's start, Jules has just bought a beater of a truck for her nascent landscape-design biz. We get the sense that
this is not the first of her bright-idea endeavors. When she agrees to tackle Paul's terraced garden, it gets "complicated," to
borrow the theme of another female-centered comedy about self, family and infidelity. Jules even says at one very funny,
flustered moment, long before things spin out of control, that "human sexuality is complicated."
California, which is all a credit to director Lisa Cholodenko’s subtle nods throughout the scenario. From Paul’s motorcycle
rides to his hip bistro, he is the state-of-mind personified, and the self consciousness of living in Cali is even skewered by a
frustrated Nic when she has had too much of it.
The script has some other problems, though, besides making Paul a patriarchal scapegoat. All of the conflict has to be
assumed through the characters’ moods, especially Nic, and that creates some quick emotional turnarounds that produces
awkward and unlikely moments. Also the discovery of the indiscretion is the film is something that could only happen on
paper, because it rang false in comparison to what seems like many more probable options in real life.
Although it is important to see alternative families depicted on screen, the cruelty that occurs when the “father” is subjected to
a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime puts a damper on the whole premise. The biggest problem I had with the film was the
myriad of plot lines that were introduced that went unresolved. I left the theater feeling unfullfilled. Great performances do not
a great film make. In the final analysis The Kids Are All Right has wonderful performances that are wasted on a mediocre
script. If they tied up some of the loose ends maybe the happy ending wouldn’t necessarily be the ending, just an opening to
a possibility that allows for a redemption in the strained relationships.
The Kids Are All Right
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Starring: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia
Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
Hollywood is often ahead of the social curve, expressing in art what
most people can’t fathom in real life. The Kids Are All Right is that type
of consciousness, depicting a committed lesbian couple – played by
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore – coming to grips with transitions
occurring with their kids.
Bening portrays Nic and Moore is Jules, a seemingly perfect domestic
couple raising two children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh
Hutcherson). Joni has just graduated from high school and will begin
college in the fall. Her brother Laser has a request for her to fulfill a
promise, that after her 18th birthday (a requirement) she would look up
the person that provided the sperm donation that spawned both of them.
That man turns out to be Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a local restauranteur.
Initially shocked when the kids contact him, Paul soon decides that he
will ingratiate himself into their lives, and even meets Nic and Jules. Nic
is very cool towards Paul, and starts lashing out against him. The rest of
the family accept the new arrangement, but the jealousy and suspicion
from Nic nearly ruins the reunion.
Paul also needs his backyard landscaped. Jules is starting a business
that does just that, and their liaison in that project takes a turn that
could threaten the main family even further. Things begin to explode
Mark Ruffalo has a few problems with his portrayal,
but only because it is weakly defined throughout.
Maybe because he is the proverbial monkey wrench
in the happy family, but the writers seem to openly
despise the character, who didn’t ask to be brought
into the mix of the family. The way he infiltrates the
clan is a tad leery, but there is nothing in his initial
actions that justify what occurs later in the film, and
he is reduced to pleading a case that makes him
sound pathetic, even though he is only half to blame.
There is a love for the “California Story” angle in the
film, as the winding, hilly streets and hip bistros of
La-La Land become as important to the sense of
the story as the trippy meanderings that are
espoused by the earth mother Jules. It feels like