[Screen It]

"THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT"
(2010) (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: Teenage siblings and their lesbian mothers must contend with the repercussions of the kids seeking out their biological father.
PLOT:
18-year-old Joni (MIA WASIKOWSKA) and her 15-year-old brother Laser (JOSH HUTCHERSON) haven't known any other life than growing up with Nic (ANNETTE BENING), a doctor, and Jules (JULIANNE MOORE), who's started a fledgling landscaping business, as their lesbian parents.

Laser, who hangs out with troublemaker Clay (EDDIE HASSELL), however, is interested in finding out who their biological father might be. Accordingly, he convinces Joni, who's just graduated from high school and must contend with her friend Sasha (ZOSIA MAMET) sexualizing everything, including their mutual friend Jai (KUNAL SHARMA), to make the request at the donation clinic.

As a result, they meet Paul (MARK RUFFALO), a laidback restaurateur who sleeps with his younger employee, Tanya (YAYA DaCOSTA) and initially isn't sure what to make of his two "new" kids. Yet, he quickly takes a liking to them and vice-versa, a development that doesn't sit well with Nic who always wants to be in control. When Jules also ends up getting chummy and then some with Paul, that leads to developments that threaten to undermine the lesbian couple's longtime partnership as well as their relationship with their kids.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
As someone who grew up long before home video cameras existed and whose family didn't have an 8mm movie camera, I've always wondered what I was like as a kid. Sure, I've heard stories, and seen the black and white and color photos, but those don't give one a sense of dimension, sounds and how one moved and interacted with their surroundings. Short of some sort of time travel machine, it's a mystery that will never be solved.

For others, the search goes back even a bit further than that. I'm referring, of course, to those who want to know about one or more biological parents they've never met, seen or heard about. Many of those were adopted and want to know who brought them into this world for future medical concerns of their own (hereditary issues and such), while others are simply curious in terms of who the people are/were and why they didn't raise their child.

Obviously, while that sometimes has a happy ending and reunion, at others the end result isn't what either party was hoping for. While the "why didn't you want me" issue isn't as prevalent in terms of sperm donors (some of whom probably wonder if their contribution ever amounted to anything) and related in vitro fertilization, those who originated that way are often curious about the identity of their donor father.

In the movie "The Kids Are All Right," Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson play two teenage siblings who are curious about just that. But their situation is a bit more complex as the only parents they've known are their lesbian mothers (Julianne Moore and Annette Bening) who were each impregnated by the anonymous donor's...well...donation. Now with one having just turned 18, they make the contact request, and lo and behold end up meeting their dad played by Mark Ruffalo. The reunion, if you will, goes fine at first, but one mom isn't pleased about the development, especially when her longtime partner ends up intrigued by the guy who fathered her child.

As directed by Lisa Cholodenko from a script she co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg, the film is an observational dramedy about a modern family with more than a few twists and turns in the domestic fabric. It isn't a laugh aloud comedy -- although various moments may make you chuckle -- and it isn't any sort of consistently heavy drama, although it has moments of some serious stuff.

Instead, as the genre identifier suggests, it sits somewhere in the middle and offers enough interesting characters and story developments to keep one engaged from start to finish, even if nothing groundbreaking ever comes up or stands out. If anything, the flick examines what constitutes family in today's ever changing world where such a unit no longer follows the old average standard of a mom, dad and two-and-a-half kids.

Despite belonging to the same gender, the two moms pretty much fall into the same trappings of the more usual husband and wife relationship, with one more dominant and domineering than the other and both having concerns about money, the raising of the kids and such. The kids, meanwhile, favor one parent over the other (obviously liking the more lax one), with related arguments, blow-outs and such. Then there's the carefree bachelor who suddenly grooves on the notion of being a father and tries to make up for lost time but lets his ingrained lothario lifestyle and choices get the better of him.

Wasikowska and Hutcherson are good as the kids, and Ruffalo is entertaining as the "new" dad. But it's Moore and especially Bening who shine as the longtime but untraditional couple who find their relationship tested and unraveling from their kids' quest to find out about their past. Bening could very well earn some acting accolades and award nominations for her performance as a controlling woman whose unhappiness only grows as the situation unravels all around her. That might sound depressing, and it certainly has its moments in such regards, but the filmmakers are smart enough to add various humorous elements to the proceedings to keep things from ever becoming overbearing or too heavy.

Due to the subject matter, the film probably won't be everyone's cup of tea, and it really doesn't cover any new underlying ground if you remove the sexual orientation of the parents (and it barely touches on how that affects the kids in terms of realistic outsider views of them growing up in that situation -- but methinks that's the intended point). Yet, if you give "The Kids Are All Right" a chance, it might just entertain and/or enlighten to one degree or another thanks to the solid performances, writing (especially the witty yet naturalistic dialogue) and the filmmaker deftly balancing all of that. The film rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed June 16, 2010 / Posted July 23, 2010


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