KIDS ARE ALLRIGHT, THE
Lesbian couple Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) share a cozy suburban Southern California home with their teenage children, Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson), who were conceived by artificial insemination. Now, 15-year-old Laser wants Joni, 18, to help him find their biological father. Against her better judgment, Joni manages to make contact with "bio-dad" Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an easygoing restaurateur. As Paul comes into their lives, an unexpected new chapter begins, throwing everyone into chaos.
Review by Louise Keller:
Outrageously funny situations and two sterling performances make this smartly written film about an unconventional family a sure-fire winner. Lisa Cholodenko's film has plenty of laughs and a light touch, but don't let that fool you: the subject matter is deadly serious. It's about relationships, parenting, fidelity and finding the right balance when the scales slip and things are suddenly on the skids. Brilliant casting positions Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as mothers and partners who happen to be lesbians, a fact that adds florist-shop colour to an already complicated and heavily perfumed situation.
Bening's Nic is a doctor and a perfectionist who enjoys a glass or two of red. Moore's Jules is the homemaker and a compulsive micro-manager about to launch her own landscaping company. When we first meet them, they are sitting at the dinner table with their two teenage children, talking about the same kind of things every family talks about. But this is no ordinary family. The bedroom scene in which Nic and Jules watch a video of gay male porn establishes without doubt, the nature of their relationship. And the children: Mia Wasikowska's 18 year old Joni, who is just about to go to college and Josh Hutcherson's 15 year old Laser appear to be well adjusted to their situation.
That's when Mark Ruffalo's Paul comes into the picture. He's a successful restaurateur and 'a do-er' who copes remarkably well with the news that he has a somewhat unconventional connection to the family. His gorgeous American-born African girlfriend (Yaya DaCosta) lets us know from the start that Paul is a hot-blooded man with a healthy libido. OK. We think that first family lunch, when Nic and Jules explain how a numb tongue lead to their first meeting is tricky, but wait until we get to that dinner at Paul's place, when all the relationships are like bombs on a short fuse.
Bening and Moore are wonderful and convincing in the roles, as is Ruffalo, who gets the balance just right; Paul's decision to create a fecund garden in his back-yard, prompts repercussions that are almost farcical. Wasikowska and Hutcherson are good too; their roles are vital to the balance of things. Ultimately, Cholodenko's film works because the characters are grounded in reality and we can relate to every little (major) hiccup along the way. Laugh, cry and leave the dishes in the sink. The kids are all right. But are we?
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Given that the story begins 18 years after the birth of the first of their two 'donated' children, we see nothing of the complexities and difficulties this lesbian couple and their kids experienced in those 18 years. On the face of it, they didn't have any, which I find hard to believe, not because they're lesbians but because raising kids at all is complicated, and in middle class Southern California, having lesbians for parents would inevitable be more so. But putting all that aside, the film makes this family accessible and completely normal as we pick up the story.
Director Lisa Cholodenko has tackled lesbian themes before (including the memorable High Art  starring Australia's Radha Mitchell) and her work is often distinguished by her ability to place her films within a mainstream sensibility without denying her interest in gay sexuality as an element.
Annette Bening delivers a sensational characterisation as Nic, the more masculine of the two, a gynaecologist who has been the primary bread winner, the perfectionist who has been the occasional pain in the butt, and the analytical mum. Julianne Moore sheds vanity to play Jules with a deep reservoir of emotion that intoxicates her - which at one stage engulfs her in a moment that reverberates through the family. Mark Ruffalo finds every possible nuance in Paul, who at 19 donated his sperm anonymously, and now meets his bio-kids as teenagers. He oozes the comfortable aura of a bachelor living the laid back lifestyle of a successful small restaurateur who casual affair with his gorgeous Ethiopian waitress Tanya (Yaya DaCosta) illustrates his floating life.
Both Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson are terrific as the kids who have grown up as normal as any other kid on the block - and more normal than some. But this isn't paraded as some sort of pro-lesbian-parenting message; it's more to do with the kids themselves.
The screenplay is beautifully honest and well observed; not only is it truthful about human nature, it finds the humanity as well as the flaws in all the characters. This is my favourite aspect of the writing (and directing), that judgement is absent and the sincere struggle of each character to do the best they can is never overshadowed by their shortcomings.
There is ample knowing humour (including a couple of well crafted scenes involving gay porn movies), pain and joy as these five characters stumble in and out of their daily lives as they grapple with fate. And while love wins out, there is a bitter sweet aftertaste to a story that reassures us of the resilience of human beings - even teenagers. The kids are indeed all right. At least for now.
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KIDS ARE ALLRIGHT, THE (MA)
CAST: Mia Wasikowska, Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Yay DaCosta, Josh Hutcherson
PRODUCER: Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Jordan Horowitz, Celine Rattray, Daniela Taplin Lundberg
DIRECTOR: Lisa Cholodenko
SCRIPT: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Igor Jadue-Lillo
EDITOR: Jeffrey M. Werner
MUSIC: Carter Burwell, Nathan Larson, Craig Wedren
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Julie Berghoff
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 2, 2010