Special Photo: Focus Features
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, left, and Mark Ruffalo, right, star in “The Kids Are All Right.”
The Kids Are All Right (R)
3 stars out of 4
Tackling a huge chunk of topical, often contentious moral and social issues, “The Kids Are All Right” is far more breezy than its subject matter would indicate and while quite good, it will likely appeal to few outside of the gay and lesbian communities or the respective fan bases of its three leads.
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a California lesbian couple who’ve been together for nearly 20 years, are almost boringly normal and have two happy, well-adjusted teen children. Nic’s daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Jules’ son Laser (Josh Hutcherson) have much more in common than other siblings with similar circumstances as they both have the same biological donor father neither they nor their mothers have ever met. Laser wants to change that.
Laser leans lightly on the barely 18-year-old college-bound Joni to exercise her adult rights and initiate contact with their dad Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a farmer and restaurant owner who conveniently lives near them. Ultra laid-back and never married, Paul handles what could have been an awkward and mildly creepy encounter with grace and diplomacy. Everyone involved is satisfied and is content to get on with their lives. All of that goes out the window when Nic catches wind of the clandestine meeting and the good opinion the kids have about Paul.
With parental jealousy and catty curiosity fueling her, Nic pretty much insists that Paul join everybody for a family dinner so she and Jules can, you know, check him out. It’s obvious neither woman subscribes to the adage “let sleeping dogs lie” and after a wee bit too much of the grape, Nic begins interrogating Paul who through it all remains unflappable.
Even though the atmosphere at the dinner wasn’t ideal, Paul develops a taste for a life he never knew but unconsciously longed for and finds little ways to remain in the picture. Mostly everybody wants him around and because Paul is sincere and so very likeable, everything works out — at least in the short term.
This is only the sixth feature film in 16 years from co-writer/director Lisa Cholodenko, who has also worked on the cable shows “The L Word” and “Six Feet Under,” two series’ with substantial gay and lesbian themes.
Long out of the closet, Cholodenko’s finest achievement here is in steadfastly avoiding politics or any kind of soapbox grandstanding. The subject of gay marriage is never brought up — not even in the abstract — something that is ticking off many in the LGBT fold. Some of these same people are also upset that Cholodenko suggests lesbians enjoy watching gay male porn or consider the prospect of a part-time heterosexual relationship.
The films’ detractors are really grasping at straws here. The characters in this movie are just that: they’re characters. They don’t define themselves through their sexuality and have raised two children with love and a level of efficiency that a lot of heterosexual couples simply can’t muster and would desperately envy. They should be happy and ecstatic that Nic and Jules — despite their universally normal flaws — are portrayed so respectfully and intelligently. They might also recognize that Cholodenko was enormously daring with her storytelling choices and she should be loudly applauded for her brave efforts. (Focus Features)