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With: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta, Kunal Sharma, Eddie Hassell, Zosia Mamet, Joaqu�n Garrido, Rebecca Lawrence, Lisa Eisner, Eric Eisner, Sasha Spielberg, James MacDonald
Written by: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use
Running Time: 104
Date: 01/25/2010

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Earth Mothers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Many people are going to trumpet Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right as revolutionary in its frank depiction of a happy lesbian couple who have successfully raised two teenagers. Then you'll hear others crying foul over the fact that one of the lesbian characters has a sexual affair with a man. But what's truly remarkable about the film is that the writing is so strong, the performances so rich that none of this stuff actually matters. What matters is that viewers will be spending time with characters so vivid that they seem to live on past the edges of the movie.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a happy couple living in Los Angeles. They are a pretty typical opposites-attract mixture, with Nic an orderly, organized doctor and Jules an unfocused wanderer, whose latest venture is a landscaping service. Fortunately, the movie doesn't concern itself with the "loose, happy" one imparting life lessons to the "uptight" one, as with most Hollywood movies. Rather, the focus is on more complex emotions. Teenage Laser (Josh Hutcherson) has become interested about the origin of his father (i.e. his sperm donor), who is also the father of the slightly older Joni (Mia Wasikowska). Laser is not yet eighteen, but Joni is and she's about ready to leave for college at the end of the summer. Laser coaxes her into requesting a meeting with their "father."

The father turns out to be Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a laid-back free spirit who runs a healthy restaurant and grows his own veggies. (For ladies who are bored with brooding pretty boys like Robert Pattinson, Ruffalo is the summer's true hunk.) He's unmarried and happily enjoys company with whatever sexy chick happens to be around. Paul is slightly surprised by this new wrinkle in his life, but finds that he would like to spend more time with his kids, and they with him. Unfortunately, he also agrees to let Jules landscape his back yard, which leads to some interesting and heartbreaking complications.

Amazingly, Cholodenko and her co-writer Stuart Blumberg (Keeping the Faith, The Girl Next Door) aren't as interested with the results of this situation as they are in the journey, and they keep it messy. Not everyone comes out happy or with a lesson learned. This is a refreshing step forward for Cholodenko; for me, her previous two feature films High Art (1998) and Laurel Canyon (2002) never quite found the balance between characters and plot and genuine emotions. Most of the time in those earlier films, the gimmicks and plot twists took precedence over human behavior, but here it's the characters that drive the movie.

In one sequence, all five principals enjoy dinner at Paul's house. Paul begins to win over the last holdout, Nic. But when she discovers some disturbing evidence in the bathroom, she returns to the table in a state of shock. Cholodenko drains the sound out of the scene as Nic deals with her painful, sinking feeling. But she does return to the table, and the dinner continues; this is not the place for a confrontation, and we know it. But we also know the exact dynamic and feelings of every other character at that table. It's like a horrible stalemate, and we can only retreat and wait to see what happens next.

It's a brilliant screenplay, but happily, this is also Cholodenko's most visually satisfying movie. She uses the hazy, warm Los Angeles weather to brilliant effect, and especially the parallels between Jules' landscaping, Paul's vegetables and the wine Nic loves to drink. Everything feels perfectly natural and almost physical, sensual. Sex is in the earth here, and everyone is thinking about it in some way. Nic and Jules watch gay male porn because it turns them on in a different way. Even a subplot about Laser shows him hanging out with a cruel, bullying best friend that constantly uses the word "fag" as an insult. (Joni also has a sex-crazy friend with lots of memorable dialogue.) It almost doesn't even matter if anyone is male or female; it's all about touch and loneliness and connection.

If The Kids Are All Right manages to get some people into the theater and change their minds about things like the legitimacy of gay marriage, or impart any other such messages, that's great. But I'd urge you to see this movie just to experience a highly skilled, highly satisfying piece of filmmaking.

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