The Kids Are All Right (2010 Focus Features)
Nic and Jules had the perfect family, until they met the man who made it all possible.
Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Bloomberg. Produced by Jeff Levy-Hinte, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Celine Rattray, Daniela Taplin Lundbert and Philippe Hellmann.
Most movies are driven by the extraordinary. The things that don’t happen everyday. The Kids Are All Right is the exact opposite. It examines the normal day. The mundane day. The stuff that gets us from one moment to the next. That’s life for Nic and Jules, a married couple living out the American Dream in suburbia with their two kids, jobs, bills and normal family life. Even though the Nic and Jules are two lesbian women raising teenagers, The Kids Are All Right shows just how normal it all is.
The opening family dinner scene sets the tone. Nic, played by one of my favorite actresses, Annette Bening, is the breadwinner of the family. A doctor who likes her wine and likes her life in order. Jules, played by Julianne Moore, is the “mom.” She sacrificed her career to stay home and raise the kids and just bought an old pick-up truck to start her own landscaping business. The conversation is your typical, “I wish we would’ve discussed this first…don’t talk on your phone at the table” fare.
And that’s the charm of The Kids Are All Right. Director Lisa Cholodenko brings the audience right to the dinner table to hear the passive-aggressive bickering, the teen angst, the bemoaning of too much wine. No gimmicks. No sweeping, dramatic pans and angles. A straightforward view of any family in suburbia.
As with any normal family, the longer you peer into their lives the more bubbles up to the surface. Kids Joni and Laser (yes, Laser…still haven’t figured that one out) get curious about their biological father and contact the sperm bank. Enter Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo, a free-spirit granola guy who’s into community farming, organic food and composting. At first glance, Paul is everything Nic isn’t. She reacts to the perceived threat that the man who fathered her children—a man she’s never met—is now becoming a focal point for her kids. While I was not wowed by Ruffalo’s performance, I was blown away by Bening. No disrespect to Ruffalo. He’s very convincing as the affable hippie, but Bening lit up the screen with her performance, especially at key moments where all she conveyed Nic’s emotion without uttering a single word.
The Kids Are All Right examines how a family life isn’t perfect. It’s never perfect. A family has to adjust to the changes. The kids grow up, your spouse gets older and your life ultimately becomes about “slogging through the shit,” as Jules would say. The takeaway lesson of The Kids Are All Right is marriage is hard and it doesn’t matter if it’s two women, two men or one of each. But the movie is also about the ties that bind us. And while life may not be tidy and may not be a storybook, it’s still rewarding. In the end, the kids really are all right.
A great, uplifting story about everyday life in an American family, The Kids Are All Right is funny, emotional, sometimes frustrating and well worth the time spent. It isn’t a statement movie, and perhaps that’s the strongest statement of all.
***-1/2 stars (out of 5)