Words: Saam Das
'The Kids Are All Right' (UK Release: 29 Oct '10)
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Cast: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska
It's not atypical for Annette Bening or Julianne Moore to be in a film concerned about their relationship woes. Most recently, we saw Julianne Moore's downtrodden character in 'A Single Man', while perhaps more famously, 'American Beauty' tracked the breakdown of a relationship in which Annette Bening was central. 'The Kids Are All Right' marries the two. Quite literally. Yes, they're lesbians and they're in a marriage.
Now that's out the way, I'll let you know that Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore) are also parents. Some more conservative readers may need a further moment to recover. Lesbians are people too. Mia Wasikowska is their 18 year old daughter, Joni, while the fringe-laden Josh Hutcherson is Laser, their 15 year old son. That's right, Laser. He wants to find out about their father but is too young so asks his sister to sort it out.
Up steps the distractingly tanned Mark Ruffalo as their sperm donor father. Although tentative at first, he arranges to meet with the children and awkward conversation ensues. But not so awkward in terms of audience reaction, as director Lisa Cholodenko consistently manages to frame the early scenes in a humorous way, aided by the wonderful screenplay she co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg.
Ruffalo often tries to hard to be too cool for school but is seemingly good hearted. For the most part. His actions become a significant intervention in Nic and Jules' marriage, leaving the film to track the fallout. From its comedic beginnings, the film begins to take much more of a dramatic pathway as we examine the difficulties of marriage and parenthood, and where Ruffalo fits into this unconventional family.
Having expected somewhat of a formulaic "feel good" comedy, I found the film's tone particularly affecting. Yet it wouldn't have been anywhere near as affecting had it not been for the convincing central performances. The film may knowingly point out the inauthencity of two straight women performing in lesbian porn scenes but the relationship here between Moore and Bening feels genuine throughout. Wasikowska and Hutcherson do well with what little they have, while Mark Ruffalo exudes charisma throughout. Apart from when he's perving while on a balcony. But even then, Chodolenko masterfully manages to use that moment as a comedy beat.
'The Kids Don't Stand A Chance', according to one popular Vampire Weekend song. And somewhat ironically, their music plays out at the beginning of 'The Kids Are All Right'. However, this doesn't end up being a cryptic message, as the film's ending tends towards its title, leaving a slightly less appealing Hollywood taste to finish. But nothing that couldn't be washed away in an instant.
Yet the one thing that I found surprisingly uncomfortable and unnecessary was the film's obsession with nudity. There were quite a number of buttocks on offer. And the odd nipple too. I guess I'm being a bit old fashioned, and this certainly isn't a film that's old fashioned.
'The Kids Are All Right' fluidly transitions between laugh out loud moments and powerful, emotional beats resulting in a film that is as refreshingly clever as it is entertaining.
DOWNLOAD: Vampire Weekend - The Kids Don't Stand A Chance (Miike Snow Remix)
'The Kids Are All Right' is on limited release across the UK. The film is out on DVD and Blu-Ray in the US next week.