Some tremendous acting forces deliver The Kids Are All Right, one of the best films I've ever seen about family and the constant struggle to keep things harmonious. Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wasikowska make this funny and blisteringly honest film one to be cherished.
Jules and Nic (Moore and Bening) are a lesbian couple with two children, Joni and Laser (Wasikowska and Hutcherson), conceived through artificial insemination. Joni is 18, and therefore old enough to track down the sperm donor—and meet him if he consents. The call is made, and Paul (Ruffalo) is more than willing to meet the child he wasn't sure existed.
Paul learns that not only was his donated sperm used once; it was used twice by the couple, and he's taken aback but pleasantly amused by the development. He meets his biological children—and is more than impressed. He knows, almost instantly, that he wants to be friends with both of them.
Enter Jules and Nic, who were unaware of their kids' contact with Paul; when they find out, they respect their children's understandable curiosity. All parties eventually meet—and this, of course, leads to all sorts of complications. Jealousy, infidelity, paranoia and landscaping all get mixed together in a fashion that is both realistic and hilarious. Give director and co-writer Lisa Cholodenko a lot of credit for making a film about families that pulls no punches and is wholly original.
Bening wowed me with her recent work in Mother and Child, another unconventional-family film. Here, her Nic is a boiling cauldron of emotion, and a little overbearing as a parent and spouse, rendering her rather unlikable at times. She is more than happy with the present state of things in her household, and she's most intimidated by the entrance of Paul into their lives. She is also, as it turns out, the one who will get hurt the most. She has a moment in a dinner scene toward the film's end that is, thanks to some particularly excellent direction by Cholodenko, beyond incredible. Bening is having the best acting year of her life.
Ruffalo, an actor I have always admired, gets the best showcase of his career. He has to be one of the finest "face" actors going; he says so much with expressions. His Paul is basically a good guy who has avoided the responsibility of fatherhood and family. When he gets the chance to meet his offspring, he embraces it—but subsequently blows it. Ruffalo plays all of these complexities with the sort of pitch-perfect nuance that displays what a talented actor he is. He's an irresistibly charming and complicated bastard in this film.
I took some shots at Wasikowska for her boring work in Alice in Wonderland. Her work here, in the land of the real, is far more impressive. Joni feels like a real kid, butting heads with her parents and bonding with the free spirit that is Paul.
Hutcherson, who just lost out on the role of Spider-Man, takes a break from fantastical franchise films like Cirque du Freak and Journey to the Center of the Earth and gets to play a teenager who isn't battling vampires or talking to cartoon birds. He shows that his work can have actual depth.
The one thing I didn't like about this film is that it had to end. It doesn't feel incomplete or unsatisfying in any way; I just want more. I know it's not normal to make sequels of films that don't involve superheroes and special effects, but I would love it if somebody found a way to revisit these characters some day.