The Kids Are All Right

Film, Comedy
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The Kids Are All Right

It’s the warm, wise humour of ‘The Kids Are All Right’ that distinguishes it from the pack, even more so than American writer and director Lisa Cholodenko’s decision to make a funny, mainstream drama about a pair of lesbian mothers and what happens when their two teenage children invite the anonymous sperm donor who is their biological father into their comfortable, progressive lives in sunny, suburban California.

The two mothers in question – or ‘mumses’, as their kids call  them – are Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore). They have been together for years and have built a model unit of progressive parenting in their spacious home. Nic is a successful doctor, while Jules is just as sensitive and loving as a mother but more drifting in her career and more prone to hippy-student tics in her conversation. Just as the pair’s elder child, quiet and assured Joni (played by Mia Wasikowska) is preparing to head off to university, she calls a sperm bank on behalf of her curious, 15-year-old brother, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), a sensitive jock who, we assume, is craving a little male presence in his life.

It’s not long before the two kids are meeting their biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), at his organic restaurant, WYSIWYG, where this man-boy enjoys flirting and sleeping with his staff and living in a bubble of laid-back, organic contentedness. Paul and the kids get along just fine, but the conflicts in Cholodenko’s film properly get into gear when Nic and Jules, in an effort to be good parents, invite Paul for dinner. Their careful parenting rubs against his laissez-faire approach to life (‘I’m not saying higher learning universally blows, but…’), throwing a spotlight on what it means to be relaxed in life, love and families and exposing some of the cracks in their own relationships with each other and their kids. 

Cholodenko’s film is confident and knowing enough to tease its characters for their ridiculous habits and foibles, and there are plenty of laughs at the expense of right-on attitudes, without trashing them. There’s an excruciating early scene when one of the children discovers their mums’ stash of gay male porn and Jules tries stutteringly to explain why most lesbian porn is so ‘inauthentic’. Later on, it’s hard to watch as Nic breaks into an a cappella version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘All I Want’ at dinner.

‘The Kids Are All Right’ is often very funny, but it also takes its characters’ lives seriously enough to be convincing and affecting as a portrait of modern American family life. Cholodenko may object to Paul’s more insensitive invasions, but she never once labels him a villain. It helps that Ruffalo, recalling his turn as a wayward sibling in 2000’s ‘You Can Count on Me’, is such an endearing presence.

But Ruffalo gives only one of a string of excellent tragi-comic performances. Moore combines physical comedy, especially when wearing her khaki gardening gear, with an interior brittleness, while Bening smiles brilliantly through gritted teeth until she can do so no longer and offers some of the film’s most moving scenes when it takes a turn for the serious in its final act.

By: Dave Calhoun


Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday October 29 2010
Duration: 106 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Screenwriter: Lisa Cholodenko
Cast: Mia Wasikowska
Julianne Moore
Annette Bening
Mark Ruffalo

Average User Rating

2.7 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:1
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:4
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:0
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"Life is hard, but keep trying and you will prevail." We're used to this kind of moralistic drivel from Hollywood, but it grates when the film has intellectual pretensions. Three stars for the performances and occasional laughs.

The most exasperating thing is that the critics think it's marvellous. I am totally sick of reading the self congratulatory patronisiing rubbish by your so called critics. This film is s piece of unremitting condescending trash with cardboard cutout characters based on middle class stereotyping without any redeeming features at all. Only fools might titter at the tripe served up as humour (e.g purple thong in the garden scene I mean puhleeeeze...) crap films wasting time and money come and go but to be applauded by Time Out's smug little crew is inexcusable. So why did I go (I hear them mutter) The idea was good.

Was really disappointed in this film, was expecting a lot more but it was full of sad cliches. I didn't feel that there was sufficient depth of character to really understand or empathise with any of them. An opportunity missed.

Hollywood never changes Yet more trash from Hollywood masquerading as intelligent drama.Midway the storyline falls apart.One dimensional acting from Annette Benning...The over arching sentimentality of it, is pure American.You know break up in order to make up.Yes it's a gay couple in love but the producers have ensured that all the usual rom com stuff is there.One strictly for the masses and even then only the Saturday night couple crowd..Yuk!

Very surprised to see TO give such a high rating to this generic Hollywood story. As usual, more straight actors playing cliched gay parts thinking they are cool in doing so. Of course Hollywood is still not a gay friendly place, so you won't find gays playing gay parts anytime soon. But Julianne Moore's lesbian does get a good seeing to in the film by a man welcomed by the gardenener knowing smirk. Clearly signposted clunky plot points and most of the characters remain undeveloped or superflous. My partner felt like Hollywood was trying to make a European style film but had to spell out every nuance and sun-text to the audience. Despite a weak script, the filming is fabulous onto Kodak analogue backed by a strong soundtrac I learnt too that real men don't like Joni Mitchell. It will be depressing if a film like this wins Oscars, it's just not that good.

This seemed very ordinary to me. It's visually quite uninteresting and I didn't have any clear sense of whose story it believed it told. I wonder if its makers wanted to make a point about nurture, nature and allegiance; were they addressing a mainstream audience and made an empty film because their objective was essentially to make propoganda? It's ok, it's not bad but it's too tidy for such an untidy subject and the comedy's too broad. Whose story was this telling? The conclusion seemed to depend on the Ruffalo character's abrupt and apparantly final stupidity. No-one's developed; all scenes finish with either long stares or rooms being left because the characters have concisely expressed their concerns without the inconvenience of challenge. This just isn't very good. It's as large and crude as a soap.

I loathed the trailer for this movie, and thought the film looked so bad it almost certainly sounded the death knell for the careers of Julianne Moore and Annette Benning. I was wrong – deeply wrong. I went mainly because of the TO review, and those of a few other regular audience reviewers on this page. The story’s good, so’s the humour, and likewise the acting. I’m not sure I’d rate it 5 stars, as that puts it in the league of “sweeping the boards at the Golden Globes/Oscars� in the spring. But I’d certainly give this movie 4 stars. Highly recommended.

I saw this film in the US in the summer hoping for a positive, uplifting lesbian film, but the storyline is quite depressing / distressing. The only uplifting, lesbian experience I got from it was seeing Julianne Moore looking great.