Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Starring: Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore
In the land of the contemporary family portrait, authenticity is king. In the kingdom of Lisa Cholodenko’s universally astounding The Kids Are All Right, this statement rings true thanks to a brilliant and socially relevant script that remains refreshingly original while shedding light on values we ourselves may have forgotten about over time. Focusing on a same-sex couple and their two children, conceived via artificial insemination, as the latter ventures out to unite with their biological father, the film remains appealingly believable throughout each situation they find themselves in as Ruffalo’s character Paul’s involvement becomes more prominent in their day-to-day affairs.
Since same-sex marriage is more often gossiped about than anything else, one of the film’s brightest qualities resides within its use of the topic to tackle several issues a traditional married couple and their kids would inevitably stumble upon as well. While Bening’s Nic and her often “butch” demeanor suggests that she is in fact the more masculine of the two spouses, Paul’s involvement in the lives of both Joni and Laser proves to be an interesting and potentially positive influence on them as they begin to bond with him over time. Paul’s meddlesome ways begin to at first benefit the entire family, suggesting that a literal father figure is precisely what the doctor ordered, but as only time will tell, all good things must come to an end.
It’s great to see how this interaction between Ruffalo’s Paul and the rest of the characters affects each of their lives for better and for worse, and how through their experiences we’re offered a glimpse into a life that starts out as desirable, with the film quickly morphing into an all-out commentary on the importance of family and togetherness just as things start to get out of hand. Such a turn proves to be hit-or-miss given the film’s brilliant opening act, but Cholodenko really hits the nail on the head with her flawless direction, not once going overboard when tension is at its peak so as to aptly maintain the film’s fantastic sense of believability, cleverness and, above all, emotional poignancy with a dash of lighthearted humor.
Each performance remains as terrific as can be from start to finish, and the chemistry exhibited all around is exceptional. Bening and Moore’s efforts will most likely come to mind upon reading this, and rightfully so, but the biggest surprise here can be found within Ruffalo’s simply brilliant portrayal of Joni and Laser’s biological father, Paul. I know we’ve all seen him give similar nuanced performances in the past, but there’s no denying how well he plays these types of characters time and time again. Wasikowska and Hutcherson also play off of each of our leads wonderfully and, despite their slightly limited involvement at times, remain a vital part of the film’s underlying message thanks to Cholodenko’s sensitive creative touches.
After awaiting its release for weeks and weeks, I’m proud to say that The Kids Are All Right rises above countless contenders to hold the title of best film of 2010 thus far. Lisa Cholodenko’s subtly brilliant script teeming with emotional resonance and social relevance is mostly to thank here, but the film’s performances are really what end up pushing the film to the very top. It’s extremely rare to stumble upon a piece of filmmaking that’s so well-rounded and accessible, so if you’re looking for another Inception, I suggest you take your search elsewhere. Instead, The Kids Are All Right is a heartfelt and simple-minded romp through the world of familial relations and the conflict any family, conventional or unconventional, can very well encounter and overcome.