Unvarnished look at unusual family
acting and story hit all the right emotions
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.