Tuesday 11 October 2011

Movie Review: The Kids Are All Right (2010)

A family drama with an intriguing premise, The Kids Are All Right has a high freshness quotient and strong acting talent to overcome a few vapid moments of self-absorption.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a middle-aged couple in a long-term relationship, raising two teenagers conceived with the help of the same anonymous sperm donor. The more assertive Nic is a doctor, while the more mild-mannered Jules is still looking for herself and dabbling in a landscaping business. Their daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) has just turned 18, allowing her to seek information about her dad. Prodded on by younger half-brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson), the two kids track down Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who donated the sperm for both of them back in his younger, wilder years.

Except that Paul is still somewhat wild and young at heart. A free-spirited and unattached restaurateur, Paul quickly establishes a warm connection with Joni and Laser, hires the eager Jules to landscape his backyard, and Jules soon progresses to taking care of Paul's more intimate bedroom needs. Nic is the only member of the family not taken by Paul's charms: she has to deal with her kids falling under the influence of a man she never cared to know, and her partner having an affair.

Director Lisa Cholodenko, who co-wrote the script, maintains interest by creating an appealing love triangle and then allowing her three characters to tug at the corners. Cholodenko sneaks into the bedroom of Nic and Jules to capture the pillow talk that betrays the irritants inherent in all long-term relationships. Unknowingly, Paul charges into a family ripe for a crisis and tips the balance into bedlam, delicious to watch but painful to navigate.

The dialogue sometimes dips into oily "but what about my feelings" self-help territory, but the performances by Bening and Moore manoeuvre expertly around the icky spots. Bening carries in her eyes the tension of an overworked doctor supporting a less-than-focused partner, with more than a hint of a growing dependency on alcohol to dull the imbalance in the relationship. Moore is more vulnerable as Jules, an adult still uncomfortable with all the responsibilities that come with the title, more used to being taken care of than taking care of her life, and susceptible to Paul's easy-going attention.

Ruffalo breezes through the movie with the ease of a man gaining familial affections without earning them, while Wasikowska and Hutcherson both display the uncanny teenage ability to sort through messy situations more easily than the flustered adults.

The Kids Are All Right succeeds in portraying a gay relationship as subject to the same risks of turbulence as a committed heterosexual union, but ultimately rises above the obvious message and delivers a compelling character-centred drama.

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