The Kids Are All Right Review

(3.5 STARS)

“The Kids Are All Right” is an extraordinary film about the inner workings of a “non-traditional” family. The film, exquisitely directed by Lisa Cholodenko, tells a story that’s unique to these characters, but its ability to capture the messy feelings and relationships inherent in any family is what elevates it from great to exceptional. It helps to have three of the finest actors working today at the absolute top of their games. Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo have never been better, while Julianne Moore nearly matches her unforgettable work in Far From Heaven. Equal parts funny and emotional, the film hits all the right notes, creating one of the most enjoyable movie-going experiences in quite some time.

Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore) are married and raising two teenage children. Both women received sperm from the same donor and had their own child, making Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) half-siblings. When Joni turns 18, her brother urges her to seek out their biological father (he’s not old enough). Enter Paul (Ruffalo)—a hip, organic farm owner. The kids click with him, and he realizes his desire to have a family. When he meets Nic and Jules, he is met with opposition, but only from one of them. Nic believes Paul is an interloper and doesn’t like the way her kids are changing as a result of spending time with him. Jules, however, begins working for Paul (as a landscape designer) and is fine with his new relationship with her kids. But as the divide between Nic and Jules grows over the Paul issue, Jules grows closer to him, and soon, they begin having an affair.

It’s fascinating the way Cholodenko uses the problems within this family as parables to the problems within every family. Watching the way these individuals deal with their issues is “The Kids Are All Right’s” chief pleasure. It all feels natural, never forced. And the film doesn’t have a typical clean Hollywood ending, which I appreciated. There’s enough closure for it to feel satisfying, but as with real life, things don’t ever simply end. There’s definitely more of this story to be told.

Since seeing it, I’ve changed my mind countless times on the issue of who gives the best performance. I think I’ve landed on Bening, simply because I think her character is probably the hardest to pull off. Nic isn’t a very likeable individual. She is cold toward Jules and tries to control the entire family. But we sympathize with her and her wish for her family to go back to normal. It’s amazing work, and it very well might get Mrs. Warren Beatty the Oscar she has been waiting for.

Her biggest competition might just come from her on-screen wife, however. Moore is also incredible as Jules. Her character is more passive. The dominant personalities around her shape her actions, but the quagmire she gets herself into forces her hand. It’s definitely an interesting transformation.

The final third of the main trio is Mark Ruffalo. This is the best work he has ever done and will almost surely get him his first Oscar nod. Paul is the kind of man who doesn’t think things through, but something changes in him when he meets his children. He makes obvious mistakes throughout the film, but he does so with only the best intentions. Even when the magnitude of his sins is made clear, we still feel for him.

Solid performances are also given by Wasikowska and Hutcherson as Joni and Laser. The writing in the film is as good as it gets, seamlessly flowing from hilarity to seriousness. Even the camerawork, something that’s not usually singled out in films like this, is tremendous. It’s clear this was a labor of love for Cholodenko, and her hard work paid off. “The Kids Are All Right” is one of the best of the year and will likely attract major attention from the Academy early next year.

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