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The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko, 2010)


 Lisa Cholodenko’s uncommonly intelligent new film The Kids Are All Right embraces its formulaic premise, but then resists developing in formulaic directions, resulting in one of the most refreshing and honest screen comedies of recent memory. In it, the new-nuclear family of Nic and Jules, a happily partnered lesbian couple, is upset after their two teenage offspring seek out the man who anonymously served as their shared sperm donor. What results is a mixture of awkward interactions in which people try to spare the feelings of those they love and direct confrontations in which the characters come to terms with feelings of insecurity and confusion. The excellent script, which Cholodenko co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg, stresses the warmth that has kept the family together while at the same time that acknowledging that being a member of any family requires some degree of sacrifice as well. The results are warm, funny, and even sexy, making the film a pleasant, well-acted surprise and the best work yet from Cholodenko.


Among the cast, all of whom are working at near-peaks, Moore’s performance allows for the most range, and the actress, surely one of our best, takes full advantage of it. Jules, her character, seems to have lived her adult life under the loving thumb of her partner, training her personality to be subservient to any situation that she’s placed in. By turns hilarious, maternal, and tragic, her work here is awards-worthy. Bening is nearly as good, with a scene here, staged at a dinner party, that recalls her memorable onstage salvo at the end of Being Julia. For a few minutes, even though the entire ensemble may be on screen, all eyes are guaranteed to remain on the Bening. Ruffalo, too, is excellent, channeling the same energies that first brought him to audiences’ attention in 2000’s You Can Count On Me. His nervous speech patterns and self-effacing, self-aware facial expressions belong to a middle-aged boy who never grew up. Rounding out the cast are Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson as the brood’s curious kids. They don’t shine as brightly as their older co-stars, but that perhaps is less due to their work here than due to Cholodenko’s focus on their on-screen parents.


Indeed, the wise decision to focus on older characters here pays major dividends as the film, in its last third, veers into more overtly dramatic territory. As The Kids Are All Right shifts from being a gentle lark into something more defined by hurt, the emotional undercurrents that have been bubbling under all along demand to be addressed. This turnabout comes less from any contrived crisis than from a shrewd script that refuses to compromise a message for the sake of a sitcom. Things get slyly political, as all of Nic’s latent fears begin to manifest themselves. Much of the criticism that has surrounded the film has suggested that it presents straight character behaviors under the guise of being progressive, but Cholodenko's pointed refusal to be all-embracing and all-forgiving comes across more as a sad and necessary statement of self-sufficiency than as a depoliticized embrace of "normality".




Jeremy Heilman