I’m going to start by clearing the air for some people who may be slightly confused. Dad, the film The Kids Are All Right is not a movie chronicling the early days of the Mod Rock band The Who in their heyday during the 1960’s. No matter how cool that movie could be. Instead, this is a movie about the most anti-nuclear family that you can think of. Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) are a married lesbian couple who have two children from the same anonymous sperm donor, 18 year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and 15 year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson). It’s an unusual family structure, but one that works for them. But now the kids have grown older, they have started to become curious about who their father is and question their mothers way of living. They manage to find out who he is, the free-spirited Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who soon enough starts to become much more involved in their lives, using them as a way for himself to finally come-of-age and act like an adult. But the introduction of Paul into the family shakes the foundations of both the family and the marriage of Jules and Nic, which is more than put to the test.
This is the sort of movie that is all about the story and the performances which carry it. You can almost imagine the idea may have once been discussed as a sitcom, and thank God that didn’t happen, as American television rarely manages to take source material like this and exploit it for all its potential and poignancy. It is all to do with character development, something that is expertly constructed in the breezy and witty script from writer-director Lisa Cholodenko and writing collaborator Stuart Blumberg. She shoots the film with a bright colours, it’s a very beautiful film to look at and remains very focused on the characters on-screen. And the performances are what carry the film’s quick-witted script straight to the finish line.
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore compliment each other so incredibly well. Bening’s Nic is a very uptight and restricted character, who doesn’t want the perfect life shes constructed to fall away, despite the fact her daughter is heading off to College. The introduction of Paul certainly winds her up like a spring, and the interplay between Bening and Ruffalo is always filled with tension. Bening is an incredibly talented actress (just go see American Beauty) and here she manages to construct a character who can be very irritating and incredibly narrow-minded to a character one minute, and then worthy of our sympathy the next. She does have perfectly good reason to be very tight with both her kids and her partner, but her nature, although well-intentioned, effectively drives them away. Julianne Moore’s Jules is a lot more of a free spirit, which has its fair share of complications with it as well. They’re both unwillingly destructive to their own family through their own human weaknesses. Moore’s performance is not as layered as Bening’s, but the two work together incredibly well.
The two younger members of the cast both reflect their respective birth mothers in terms of their character. Mia Wasikowska’s (Alice in Wonderland) Joni starts out as quite uptight and very focused, much like the character of Nic. The same can be said for Josh Hutcherson’s (Bridge to Terabithia) Laser begins as much more a free spirit, but when Paul enters the family, these roles seem to change. Laser does seem to take a bit more of a step back once Paul comes into the frame, less is focused on him then there is with Joni who undergoes a more dramatic change as she learns to finally rebel and try new experiences in life. Paul is the bringer of both a mixture of joy and pain for the family, but the free-spirited character remains incredibly likeable thanks to the warming performance from Mark Ruffalo (Shutter Island). It really was worth an Oscar nomination, and it is very refreshing to see such a genuine and human performance receive that form of recognition, rather than the usual Oscar-bating roles of larger than life characters or historical figures. Ruffalo injects a charm that he is normally capable of in his other under-rated roles (Zodiac is a must-see both for his performance and Jake Gyllenhaal’s). It will be interesting to see what he will do as The Hulk, but if he brings as much charisma to the role as he does here then I’m sure he will do just fine in bigger budget fair. It is great to see he is getting the recognition that he throughly deserves.
It is not hard to see how this film won the Golden Globe for Best Musical/ Comedy or why it earned itself an Oscar nomination for both Best Picture and Original screenplay. It’s not hard to see why it didn’t win those, as for all its humour and interesting concept, the film does fall to some of the clichés you’d expect from a family dramedy. And the ending may leave some unsatisfied, as not all ends are tied up, perhaps leaving the viewer to make what they will, but it does seem slightly out-of-place in a movie like this. But overall it’s one of the more unconventional dramedies out there and will certainly leave you with a smile on your face.