Joni and Laser live in an unconventional but loving and secure household, yet feel that they’ve come to the point in their lives to fill a void and seek out one important person: their biological father. Bringing him into their lives only creates more unconventionality in this award-nominated alternative family feature that combines hilarity and heartwarming goodness, The Kids Are All Right.
Nic (Annette Bening) is a sarcastic and witty doctor with an aspiring creative businesswoman of a wife in Jules (Julianne Moore). Their daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is sweet and a little unsure of herself and is approaching a milestone for the family as she prepares to move away to college. Before she leaves, her 15-year-old brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) convinces her to get in touch with their sperm donor. Their guy turns out to be a scruffy, motorcycle-riding, playboy restaurant owner and farmer named Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Paul and the kids have a respectable liking to each other right away, but Nic, moreso than Jules, begins to question his possible addition to the family–and how Paul gets along with the two matriarchs threatens to shake up the dynamic tremendously.
One great aspect about Lisa Cholodenko’s film (Who also penned the script with Stuart Blumberg) is that it showcases each character in detail and how the as-is family life affects them, and how Paul’s presence makes them come to realizations about themselves. A case in point: Laser’s best friend is a troublemaking skater boy and after Paul meets him and tells Laser he doesn’t like him, it only confirms his mothers’ suspicions about him–but it takes Paul’s concern for Laser to believe it. In turn, spending time with Joni and Laser makes Paul realize that he should make changes to his own life, but it’s not simple to become part of a family when you’re looked at as an outsider, and even harder when you one-up as someone who actually disrupts an already-good thing.
The script falls flat especially in the beginning and the character development, particularly for one person by film’s end, could have been improved upon. But the film approaches outlooks on life, relationships, and family with humor, honesty, and frank discussions. In one funny and memorable scene, Nic and Jules sit down with Laser to discuss his relationship with his previously-mentioned best friend, and why they were caught watching gay male porn together. It really shows how openness is important in family discussions—particularly within their family—and that it can sometimes debunk assumptions in lighthearted ways.
The importance of being honest comes into play once again in perhaps the film’s most riveting scene, where Jules acknowledges the difficulties of marriage, dramatically but in a way that resonates with people. What she says and emotes is so real and builds up to a message the film attempts to convey. Each character is flawed and it’s hard not to dislike any or all of them, but each actor is remarkable as those characters, and their flaws are simply a part of human nature. All human relationships aren’t perfect and people make mistakes, but that’s the way of the world and as long as there’s love and openness from everyone, that’s what makes a family. The Kids Are All Right is a fine balance of smart comedy and true drama and exemplifies that even though families come in different forms, the differences can be appreciated, and universally, we all mess up, grow up, grow old, and live life to take risks anyway.
OVERALL SCORE: 8/10