Directed by Lisa Cholodenko with a screenplay written with Stuart Blumberg. The Kids Are All Right tells the story of a lesbian couple who are raising two teenage kids in California. When the kids want to find the identity of their sperm donor father, they find out who their father as it shakes up the lives of the kids’ mothers who reluctantly let him in to their world. Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, and Mark Ruffalo. The Kids Are All Right is a witty though flawed film from Lisa Cholodenko and company.
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a married lesbian couple living in Los Angeles with two teenagers named Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Nic is a doctor who likes to maintain things in the house while Jules is a housewife who is about to start a landscaping business. It’s summer as the 18-year old Joni is about to leave for college while the 15-year old Laser wonders who is their father since both their moms were impregnated by a man through a sperm donor.
After discovering that the man’s name is Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a bohemian restaurant owner who likes to create live a carefree lifestyle. Joni and Laser meet the man as Joni is impressed by him though she and Laser decide to keep things secretive. While Nic and Jules are going through a bit of a rough patch over their sex life, they also wonder about Laser’s friendship with his skateboard buddy Clay (Eddie Hassell). After a strange encounter with Laser and Clay which turned out to be a misunderstanding, they learn about Paul as Nic and Jules reluctantly invite Paul to dinner.
Paul meets Jules and Nic where everything is cool though Nic isn’t so keen on him. Jules however, is surprised that he needed a landscaper for his backyard garden as she befriends Paul. Though Nic wasn’t sure about Jules working with Paul, Jules felt free working with Paul while Joni and Laser were also enjoying their time with him. The connection between Paul and Jules becomes more evident though the two realize what relationship they might have with each other could ruin things. Realizing that Paul isn’t the nuisance that she perceived him to be, Nic decides to eat at Paul’s home. Things start out fun and relaxed until Nic makes a horrible discovery that would change the dynamics of the family.
The film is about a family led by two lesbian mothers whose quaint, unconventional life is disrupted when their kids discover who their father is. That’s the plot in a nutshell as it would lead to things that would threaten the marriage between Jules and Nic along with their relationship with their own kids. The screenplay by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg starts off promising with the introduction of Paul and the way his relationship develops with the other characters. Though there’s a few flaws in some parts, notably the character of Laser that feels underwritten. It seems fine though the subplot concerning Jules and Paul’s own attraction each other would set up something that would lead to the more emotional third act.
Though the character of Nic might seem like an uptight, controlling mother who doesn’t like the idea of her daughter riding on a motorcycle with her dad. It’s only because she is having a hard time dealing with this new person in the lives of her children. Even for someone who isn’t well-educated, scruffy-looking, and more of a free-spirit. Yet, there are similarities to Paul and Nic that become more evident including in one point when Paul meets Laser’s friend Clay. It’s clear that he has the same opinion about Clay that Nic and Jules seem to have.
While her character would eventually relax by the time the third act arrives, there comes a moment in the film where everything would crash and lead to some heavy-handed drama. Particularly to do with what Jules and Paul did though the truth is really more complicated and the kids are understandably upset. The problem with that the third act late in the film is that it leaves the film unresolved for one character while there’s also monologues that comes across as preachy and melodramatic. For some reason, it didn’t seem to work as it has this very promising story but no real ending. Not even something that can very open and loose where it can leave a lot of interpretation. It’s just that it doesn’t do things that a story like this should happen.
Cholodenko’s direction is enjoyable to watch in the way she creates intimate and wonderful scenes where characters just interact. Shot on location in Los Angeles, the film has a gorgeous look that recalls the sunny, lively world of Los Angeles. Even in places like the garden that Paul works in along with his home to represent the way the characters live in. Still, Cholodenko is more interested in characters and their interaction towards another. Even in creating humor where it feels natural such as the way Jules is trying to pleasure herself sexually.
The direction for the most part plays it straight and relaxed until in parts of the third act where it becomes very dramatic. Including in one scene where there’s a slow-motion cut from Nic’s perspective about what she just learned that comes across as very manipulative. It’s the one scene that really doesn’t work and the way its presented feels unnecessary and out of place with the rest of the film. Despite the flaws the film has, notably in sections of the third act and its ending. Lisa Cholodenko has created a lively, engaging film about unconventional families.
Cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo does a fine job with the film‘s colorful, vibrant photography from the sunny, natural look for many of the film‘s daytime exterior scenes. Even in the nighttime scenes and exteriors where the intimacy of film really comes into place as it is some good, straightforward work from Jadue-Lillo. Editor Jeffrey M. Werner does a very good job with the film’s editing as it mostly plays it straight including some rhythmic cuts for a scene where Joni rides with Paul on his motorcycle. Even in helping to create some great dramatic moments except for one scene where the slow-motion ends up ruining the drama.
Production designer Julie Berghoff, along with set decorator David Cook and art director James Connelly, does an excellent job with the differing looks of the places the characters interact. Whether it’s the more organized home of Jules and Nic or the bohemian world that Paul lives as the art direction is the film‘s technical highlight. Costume designer Mary Claire Hannan does a nice-job with the film‘s costumes from the youthful clothing the kids wear along with the more rugged looks that Jules and Paul sport to the more somewhat-conservative look that Nic wears.
Sound designers Frank Gaeta and Elmo Weber do some nice work with the film’s sound whether its creating a natural atmosphere for quiet scenes or scenes where there’s a party going on. Music composer Carter Burwell does some fantastic work with the film’s mostly folk-driven score with washy electric guitar tracks as it plays in a plaintive tone. Even as the rest of the soundtrack is filled with indie stuff such as MGMT, Vampire Weekend, and Tame Impala to old-school stuff from Joni Mitchell and David Bowie.
The casting by Laura Rosenthal is wonderful for its array of small but memorable performances such as Joaquin Garrido as Jules’ landscaping assistant Luis, Zosia Mamet as Joni’s sex-obsessed friend Sasha, Kunal Sharma as Joni’s quiet male friend Jai, Eddie Hassell as Laser’s abrasive pal Clay, and Yaya DaCosta as Paul’s sometimes lover Tanya.
Josh Hutcherson is very good as Laser despite the fact that he is underwritten. Even in the way his relationship with Paul is developed which at times is awkward though he does bring in some excellent humor to the character and scenes in the film. Mia Wasikowska is superb as Joni, the 18-year old college-bound girl who finds a connection with Paul while feeling uptight about Sasha’s sexual comments. Notably in scenes where her character has a chance to lash out and rebel against Nic’s sense of control as Wasikowska is marvelous to watch.
Mark Ruffalo is amazing as Paul, a bohemian man who discovers that he’s the father of two kids as he is unsure what to do. Yet, Ruffalo makes Paul a charming though somewhat-immature man who is just trying to be a good guy and a grown up. Even in scenes where he feels that he’s going to fuck things up yet he brings a lot of sympathy to a character that isn’t entirely likeable but an overall good guy. Julianne Moore is excellent as Jules, a laid-back housewife wanting satisfaction in her new career as she finds some fulfillment in Paul as Moore and Ruffalo have excellent chemistry. Even as Moore feels like she is someone having a hard time with this new relationship as she brings a lot of humor to the way she reacts despite some clunky moments late in the film.
Annette Bening is pretty good as Nic, the disciplinary yet understanding person of the film who has a hard time dealing with the new person in her family’s lives. While it’s a role where Bening is restrained and in good fashion. She gets to show her bitchiness throughout the film as it starts off fine though by the third act. It kind of falls apart where she has this awful monologue that makes her look childish while some very emotional parts in her performance gets a little overdone at times. It’s probably Bening’s best performance since Kevin Costner’s widely-underrated western Open Range which shows that she can be good when she doesn’t overact or go a lot of heavy lifting.
The Kids Are All Right is a stellar though flawed film from Lisa Cholodenko. While it has a great cast that features Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, and Josh Hutcherson. It’s a film that shows what a modern family with same-sex couples can be along with someone from the opposite sex can bring. Despite some good ideas about family, it’s a film that does fall flat due to some heavy-handed ideals towards the end of the film which does kind of ruin things. In the end, The Kids Are All Right is an entertaining and engaging film from Lisa Cholodenko.
Lisa Cholodenko Films: (High Art) - Laurel Canyon - (Cavedweller)
© thevoid99 2011