18 October 2010
ByAppeared in BioNews 580
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
The Kids Are All Right is about the long-term committed lesbian relationship of Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) and their relationship with their two teenage children, 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson), one born to each mother using the same unknown sperm donor.
There is nothing particularly unusual about this film to begin with. Both kids call their parents 'Mum' and behave towards them like normal teenagers, with a mixture of love and exasperation. The kids are certainly alright. Joni is a straight 'A' student preparing to leave for college and Laser is good natured. There is also a familiar tension between Nic and Jules. Nic is a workaholic obstetrician, the breadwinner of the family and a control freak. It becomes clear Nic has taken on a paternal role within the family. Jules, on the other hand, is more laid back. She primarily looked after the kids at home and flirted with many unsuccessful business ventures - the most recent a landscape design company. The family is more or less content, with undertones of frustration and confusion. In other words: completely normal.
Joni and Laser have always been curious about their biological father. Joni, at 18, is old enough to make contact with the sperm donor. She is convinced to do so by Laser, who discovers his longing for a father figure after witnessing his best friend Clay (Eddie Hassel) and his father 'rough-housing' (a skateboarding sport) together. The balance of the family is disrupted when sperm donor Paul (Mark Ruffalo) appears. This affable motorbike-riding restaurateur and organic farm owner is thrilled to be contacted by his biological children ('I love lesbians'!). Paul's presence complicates the film. Paul soon becomes confidant to the children, especially Laser, and later to Jules with whom he has an extramarital affair. Yet Paul is not the bad guy in this film - his presence brings to the surface existing weaknesses and conflicts between Nic and Jules. The performances by Bening, Moore and Ruffalo are strong, especially when portraying the imperfections of the characters they play.
Despite the unconventional context, the drama, comedy, conflict and subsequent reconciliation are fairly conventional. The director, Lisa Cholodenko, does not try to homogenise the relationship between Nic and Jules. The lesbian relationship at the centre of the film is simply accepted and the plot moves on. Often films and television programmes use comedy to get to grips with homosexuality, but the comic moments in The Kids Are All Right stem from the flawed and complex natures of the leading characters. These shine in uncomfortable and awkward moments. For example, when all five meet for the first time around the dinner table and during a hilarious and touching karaoke rendition of Joni Mitchell's 'All I Want'. The film is a drama and comedy without melodrama and exaggeration for comic effect.
The Kids Are All Right takes on a serious, emotionally complex and not uncommon issue and portrays it with humour, sentiment and honesty.