Director: Lisa Cholodenko
The Kids Are All Right is another of those “dramedys” that attempts to balance drama with wry humour whilst offering a message. Often the balance is tipped in favour of either the drama (American Beauty) or comedy (Knocked Up), and usually the message of the film is lost somewhere along the way. The Kids Are All Right admirably decides to keep the balance stable, giving time for both drama and comedy. But does it work?
Director/co-screenwriter Lisa Cholodenko draws from her own life for this story of lesbian parents (Annette Bening’s Nic and Julianne Moore’s Jules) whose children Joni and Laser (Mia Waskiowska and Josh Hutcherson) become curious about their biological father. A call to the sperm clinic later, and they get in contact with Paul (Mark Ruffalo). After their initial meeting behind their mother’s backs, the kids warm to him and attempt to make their mothers like him too. Nic is frosty, whilst Jules is a little too seduced by Paul’s easygoing ways. The lesbian parents aside, this set-up seems rather formulaic, but that problem is overcome with some terrifically funny scenes and great performances. Bening is getting a lot of awards buzz for her brittle-yet-emotional turn, but she’s matched by Moore’s dippy hippy and Ruffalo’s macho cad. However, all three are eclipsed by Wasikowska and Hutcherson, who bring nuance and immense likeability to their roles. What could have been a pair of typical angst-ridden teens are developed with humour and warmth. Both actors should enjoy long careers. All five actors flex their comedic muscles here, with some brilliant exchanges and (surprisingly frequent and frank) sex scenes troubling the funny bone.
With all that said, The Kids Are All Right has other problems. Cholodenko is clearly an open-minded and liberal individual, but that’s no excuse for her and co-writer Stuart Blumberg’s characterization. This family are so open and monied that they border on (and occassionally cross into) self-importance. Nic is a doctor supporting Jules’ landscape gardening business, Paul owns an organic restaurant and Joni drives a Prius. And who names a kid Laser?! These characters are likeable, but not particularly identifiable. Indeed, the whole film comes across as smug; its vision of middle-class life lacks either Sam Mendes’ introspection or Wes Anderson’s dry irony. Thus, The Kids Are All Right appears to think it’s smarter than its audience, and if there’s one thing audiences hate, it’s being talked down to. Luckily, TKAAR also remembers to keep us engaged and entertained, mitigating the damage. It boasts an interesting premise and solid execution, but beware you might get choked in a cloud of smug.