In The Kids Are All Right, Julianne Moore and Annette Bening play a married couple raising their two teenage kids in their happy-yet-imperfect home. But that’s not what the film is about. It also, for that matter, isn’t about how the kids get the urge to locate their biological father. No. The Kids Are All Right, better than any movie so far this year, is about troubling family dynamics. It’s about struggle and sacrifice. It’s about making sense of a situation you thought you understood. Essentially, it’s about life.
It’s Joni’s (Mia Wasikowska) last summer before she heads off to college, and her younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) encourages her to seek out the anonymous sperm donor whose… product was used by each of their moms years ago.
Once the kids secretly meet up with Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the kind of laid back guy who wears his flannel shirts loose and ends each sentence with “right on” or “yeah, man,” they take a quick liking to him. But once Paul is introduced to Jules (Moore) and Nic (Bening), the minor troubles the family previously had slowly begin to seep their way to the surface.
Littered with insecurities, Jules is becoming afraid that her unmotivated, peace-and-love mentality is pushing her career-driven wife away. The impressionable Laser spends his days with an overly aggressive, Adderall-snorting buddy, while Joni deals with her looming virginity. There’s a void in everyone’s life. For better or worse, that’s where Paul comes in.
What The Kids Are All Right pulls off so well is the reality of everyday family life. You can thank director Lisa Cholodenko, who has explored emotional drama with the good High Art and the better Laurel Canyon, or her witty screenplay written with Stuart Blumberg, or you can thank the pitch-perfect cast.
Bening turns out the same repressed ferociousness she brought to her brilliant role in American Beauty, while Moore, in her best role since Far From Heaven, takes Jules to stages of such convincing grief and regret that it is nearly unbearable. Ruffalo has made a career playing likable, unfocused characters (which he perfected in You Can Count on Me), and here he delivers some of his best work to date. But it’s the 20-year-old Wasikowska who steals the show.
Brilliant in her role as a troubled gymnast in HBO’s In Treatment but wasted in Tim Burton’s Alice and Wonderland, Wasikowska presents Joni with such an internal intensity, at times it feels as if she’s going to explode. Wasikowska is a serious force to be reckoned with, emotionally going pound for pound with the A-list cast. Get used to her name, you’re going to be seeing a lot more of her.
You may expect some talk in the film of how lesbian parents aren’t fit to raise children. Don’t. This isn’t a political movie. It’s a family drama. The fact that they are gay is merely an afterthought. Is the family unconventional? Sure. But aren’t all families? They have their troubles and hardships like all parents do in raising teenagers, and they work through it as best they can.
Don’t get me wrong, this film isn’t all tears and screams. It is funny – really funny, actually – and will provide a genuine, if not too honest, good time. The kids may be all right, and this movie sure ain’t bad either. A-