Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo
Runtime: 106 Minutes
I’m not surprised that there’s already Oscar buzz surrounding this film. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore create some stunning moments, and both of them might easily be in the running for a couple of gongs come awards season. If you see The Kids Are All Right, you might even find yourself choosing which performance you prefer (I’d say the latter; but then I’ve always been a bit of a Julianne Moore junkie). The film does comedy, but isn’t a comedy; in my book, it’s a drama and a good one at that. It’s a film with lesbians, but not really about lesbians; its sexual content extends little further beyond an ominous buzzing that accompanies the central couple beneath the sheets early on in the film, and then a brief discussion on the merits of straight actresses in lesbian porn.
Besides that, The Kids Are All Right is really a family drama that scrutinises marriage and monogamy, whether gay or straight, and relationships between parents and their offspring. Jules (Moore) and Nic (Bening) have had children by artificial insemination, but once their daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is old enough to track down the biological father, the film’s scrutiny extends to the relationship between Joni, her brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson), and the charming hippie sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo).
Moore and Bening aren’t constants in the film, as the story allows itself to digress towards the individual lives of the two children and Paul, but the central partnership doesn’t suffer for it. Refreshingly, neither Nic nor Jules play any clear male/female roles, but remain distinct from each other. Nic is the hard-nosed, serious doctor with a bit of a weakness for red wine, and Jules, if anything, suffers only from being a bit too Californian: unfocused and dreamy and ‘between projects’. What happens is utterly recognisable: they’re going through a bit of a mid-marriage crisis, and their liberality won’t save them after their kids throw a complete spanner in the works, when Paul waltzes into their family life. They want to be cool and all right with it. In theory they are, but cracks begin to appear very quickly after his arrival.
But full credit is due to both the writing and the film’s star performances, as you certainly don’t leave the film hating any of its characters. They’re human – even when Jules and Paul get too close for comfort it’s very difficult to squarely blame anyone. You might pity these people, as it’s easy to care for all of them (my cheeks hadn’t been so wet since I’d seen Up). Moore and Bening capture all the shade and light of a relationship that you truly believe might have been going on for over two decades, and it’s even nice just to watch them have intelligent conversations onscreen together. This may be one of the best ever screen couples (not quite Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, but certainly better than Edward and Bella), and the fact that they’re both women is largely inconsequential.