Un­var­nished look at un­usual fam­ily

act­ing and story hit all the right emo­tions

Austin American-Statesman - - MOVIES & LIFE - By Chris Gar­cia

Lisa Cholo­denko’s deeply af­fect­ing “The Kids Are All Right” is a squirmy, be­liev­able look at the un­nav­i­ga­ble con­tours of fam­ily and mar­riage, re­lated with a sur­gi­cal hon­esty un­com­mon in main­stream films. It of­fers the emo­tional loop-the-loops that pop up here and there in fine, sim­i­larly women-cen­tric movies, such as Ni­cole Holofcener’s re­cent “Please Give.”

An­nette Ben­ing and Ju­lianne Moore — both out­stand­ing — play a les­bian cou­ple whose 20-year mar­riage ap­pears to be ro­bustly healthy (it’s not) and has pro­duced a pair of very smart teens, Laser and Joni, con­ceived by an anony­mous sperm donor. (Note the kids’ names, ves­tiges of the cou­ple’s bo­hemian past.)

Cre­at­ing some­thing of a model fam­ily amid their un­ortho­dox setup, Ben­ing’s Nic and Moore’s Jules are con­sum­mate par­ents, shap­ing their chil­dren into up­right adults us­ing a steely so­lic­i­tous­ness that has an

Con­tin­ued from D1 in­con­gru­ously whole­some fla­vor to it, rather “Mother Knows Best”-ish.

On the crest of adult­hood, the cu­ri­ous teens suc­cess­fully track down the sperm donor (Mark Ruf­falo, who un­der­plays win­ningly). It’s a ner­vous en­counter that smoothly blooms into an easy-go­ing friend­ship. They think their sort-of fa­ther, Paul, is pretty cool, what with his hip mo­tor­cy­cle and or­ganic co-op farm. What he has in com­mon with the decade-older Nic and Jules — fash­ion­able un­con­ven­tion­al­ity, earthy val­ues and taste in old folk-rock — al­lows the cau­tious moth­ers to in­vite Paul into their lives.

Sym­bol­ism gets a stren­u­ous work­out. Jules is a land­scaper, cul­ti­vat­ing the fer­til­ity of Paul’s back­yard. Paul grows food, and pro­vided the seeds for a fam­ily. Nic is an ob­ste­tri­cian, as­sist­ing life into the world. All of it adds up to the ne­ces­si­ties of re­la­tion­ships — nur­tur­ing, growth, hard work.

In this im­pres­sive movie, Cholo­denko, who was on shakier ground with ear­lier films “High Art” and “Lau­rel Canyon,” dis­plays an acute un­der­stand­ing of hu­man frailty. She presents the les­bian cou­ple with­out con­ces­sions, tinged with sex­ual frank­ness and lived-in con­vic­tion.

Across the board, the per­form­ers are alert and present, wholly em­body­ing the An­nette Ben­ing, front left, Ju­lianne Moore, Josh Hutch­er­son, Mia Wasikowska and Mark Ruf­falo form a dif­fer­ent kind of fam­ily in ‘The Kids Are All Right.’ char­ac­ters. Ben­ing, sport­ing a spiky pixie cut, gives pos­si­bly her best per­for­mance, qui­etly charged and spec­tac­u­larly nu­anced.

At the start, Ben­ing’s com­mand­ing pres­ence nearly eclipses Moore, who soon comes into the role with full-throated pas­sion. Ruf­falo’s pain and con­fu­sion will break your heart, while Mia Wasikowska — the young Aus­tralian ac­tress who was re­cently Alice in “Alice in Won­der­land” — shows a pre­co­cious con­fi­dence as flinty Joni.

Fam­i­lies are hard; mar­riage is harder. Cholo­denko’s emo­tion­ally pris­matic, and usu­ally spot-on, movie per­cep­tively probes life’s va­garies: hurt, heal­ing and mov­ing on, and the inar­tic­u­late beauty of heart­break. Rat­ing: Strong sex­u­al­ity, nu­dity, lan­guage, teen drug and al­co­hol use. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 44 min­utes. The­aters: Alamo South, Ar­bor.

An­nette Ben­ing, left, and Ju­lianne Moore are spec­tac­u­lar in the film.

Suzanne Ten­ner

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