25 February 2011 | seaview1
Domestic Life in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
The nuclear family takes on a different spin when both parents are same sex and the kids are the product of a male sperm donor in The Kids Are All Right. When traumatic upheaval and revelations strike such a family, the results can be amusing and also tragic. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore highlight an insightful script about domesticity turned on its head.
Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore) are lesbian parents of two teens, Joni and Laser. One day the children research and contact their biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who agrees to meet his progeny. After an awkward first meeting, things actually go well as the new family connections are explored by the kids and their newly found father. The couple of Nic and Jules are a contrast; Nic is the physician who is totally controlling while Jules is still trying to find herself with a new business of landscaping. Laser hangs with the wrong crowd and begins to realize that he deserves better through his bond with Paul. Joni is trying to assert herself as an adult and prepares to go to college. The moms show a parental responsibility to watch over their children and want to meet the dad. When Paul hires Jules to do work on his restaurant landscape, the two connect. As Paul's influence begins to overcome the family, Nic feels left out. But there is an attraction between Jules and Paul that leads to a torrid affair, and when Nic discovers the truth, the family is torn apart. Into this mix are two maturing children whose emotions will be tested throughout.
The roles are well acted especially by Benning as a betrayed spouse, and in particular, her scene of revelation about Jules is a marvel of expressiveness and devastating heartbreak. This culminates in a powerful moment with all the principals present at Paul's dinner table. Moore gives solid support and shines in her heartfelt plea to her family near the end. The ensemble is well cast particularly Ruffalo whose almost bystander role is suddenly elevated to catalyst and disruptor of the family's dynamic.
The story has a nice balance of serious tones and comedic elements born out of the situations. The themes work on several levels like ingredients of a zesty recipe: the family chemistry, the couple of Nic and Jules, the kids' developing bond with Paul, Paul and Jules, and shake and mix well. Everyone has needs and wants, and the strongest is a need to belong to a family and the need to connect with another human being whether it be Laser and his friends, Paul and Jules, Paul and his children, and Nic and Jules. Amid the conflicts, no one escapes unscathed. There are no real heroes or villains here, only hard truths about life and relationships.
The fact that two lesbians are having the conflict over infidelity may seem novel on the surface, but it could easily have been a heterosexual couple. In fact the notion of two lesbians virtually disappears as we witness and understand this family unit with its warts and all. It could be any family when you think about it. The fact that both Benning and Moore play their respective spousal roles so convincingly is a testament to their acting skills playing off an excellent script by Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko, who also directs. The ending rings true and shows not only how far the relationships have come, but how that foundation, despite some serious challenges, is strong enough to survive. Life moves on, and there is hope for the future.
There are not a lot of loose ends in this story although, toward the end, it would be nice to get a bit more resolution to Ruffalo's character. The film does contains a couple of brief explicit sex scenes without which this would essentially be a PG rated film. There is little to quibble about, and the viewer gets to experience one of the more insightful domestic dramas in recent years.