Everything’s all right with ‘The Kids’ 

With its story about a solid two-mom household and a sperm-donor dad who ruffles decorum, “The Kids Are All Right” both puts a fresh face on the mainstream American movie family and affirms its traditional values in ways that feel simultaneously relevant and retro.

Nothing profound, challenging or surprising happens in this serio-comedy. But superb performances and rich direction enable it to memorably please.

Writer-director Lisa Cholodenko, who previously made the impressive “High Art” and the lesser but underrated “Laurel Canyon,” again delivers smart characters who mess things up, with a culture clash figuring into the chaos, in this L.A.-set mix of soap and wit.

In what may be the most functional family dynamics ever to hit the Sundance screen, Nic (Annette Bening), a strong-minded physician, and her longtime wife, Jules (Julianne Moore), an underachieving landscaper, are loving (and sometimes doting) parents to decently adjusted teens Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Both kids were conceived with the same sperm donor.

The “bio-dad,” whom the kids locate and visit, is Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an affable restaurateur.

In a guess-who’s-coming-to-lunch sequence, bourgeois, structured Nic reacts with near-horror to breezy, bohemian Paul, while Jules, like the kids, warms to him.

Paul invites Jules to beautify his garden, and his approval of her efforts makes her feel appreciated where workaholic Nic hasn’t.

Soon, romantic sparks are occurring between Jules and Paul. The betrayal devastates Nic and shakes everybody up. Can Nic and Jules’ partnership survive?

While the mainstream treatment of the LGBT themes seems intentional on Cholodenko’s part, the contrivedness of the story (co-written with Stuart Blumberg), whose outcomes are predictable right up through the final hug, is frustrating. The triangle is presented too shallowly for credibility. Paul, through no fault of the effective Ruffalo, is a stock interloper.

Fortunately, however, Cholodenko supplies a wealth of emotional texture amid the cliches. When her characters are simply connecting and her actors clicking (and that’s lots of the time) she delivers an entertaining, engrossing look at both the petty snarls and the deeper ties that constitute marital and family dynamics.

Bening and Moore triumph. The two are warm and funny in old-married-couple form, with Bening in acerbic mode and Moore in screwball form. 

Each has a knockout emotional scene as well. Crucial to our sustained involvement, the two convince us something meaningful is at stake. The film’s flaws notwithstanding, we may not see a more satisfying movie relationship all year.

 

Movie review
The Kids Are All Right ***
Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
Written by Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Rated R
Running time 1 hour 46 minutes


 

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