Nic and Jules seem to have the perfect life, with a beautiful home and two great kids. The fact that they are a lesbian couple, played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, provides a critical plot point and then becomes completely incidental in Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right,” which opens Friday.
“Incidental!” Bening exclaims. “That’s the perfect word! It’s one of the virtues of this film in reflecting what is becoming part of the mainstream of culture.”
Nic, Bening’s character, is a strong person. She’s a successful doctor, the family breadwinner, and she provides — some might say imposes — a structure and order that keeps their lives on track.
She also seems terrified of influences from the outside that might harm their domestic bubble, including her children’s quest to meet Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the sperm donor whom they might call dad.
“I loved playing her for those very qualities,” Bening says. “She felt like a very real person to me compared to a lot of other characters I’ve played. There was a very direct, straightforward nature to her and what happens in the film really tests her.”
How was it to have a wife? Bening smiles. “There’s a famous feminist essay [by Judy Brady] about the concept called ‘I Want a Wife’ and I think, in this film, Nic and Jules are a couple who have worked it out that way.”
While the kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson), and even Jules, seem to want to explore what Paul might bring into their lives, Nic is not convinced.
“I like the fact that she is not necessarily that open to him at the beginning,” Bening says. “It may not seem very politically correct, but it feels very human.”
Perhaps drawing on her American Conservatory Theater training, Bening praises the script by Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg with Chekhovian qualities.
“He was the master of the story with no villains,” she says. “Here we have people struggling, doing their best with the situation in front of them. Nothing is outside the realm of normal experience. They’re not crazy people; they’re just like you and me. It’s one of the reasons the movie really works. It’s so rich and so detailed.”
Cholodenko’s direction gets further praise from the Oscar winner.
“Her work is very simple, in the best sense,” Bening says. “She doesn’t make her presence known by moving cameras all over and things like that, so that when she does do something cinematic it really has an effect.”
If you go
Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
Written by Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Running time 1 hour 47 minutes