Movie Review: The Kids Are All Right

By Matthew Huntley

July 29, 2010

Make one more joke about my hair. I dare you.

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The Kids Are All Right tells an endearing but mostly traditional story about a family going through a crisis. It’s dramatic, funny and well acted, but it’s not as inspired as you might think, especially after all the praise it received at the Sundance Film Festival. I’m not usually one to play on words, but The Kids are All Right is just all right.

In the film, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play Nic and Jules, a married lesbian couple who each bore a child from the same sperm donor. Their kids are Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Together, the four of them create a peculiar but stable family unit that suddenly comes under stress due to unforeseen changes.

Jules has just started a new landscaping business but Nic, a breadwinning doctor, isn’t thrilled with the idea because it means she loses a little bit of control. Joni has just turned 18 and only has a couple of months before she leaves for college. She’s sexually inexperienced but curious to learn with the boy from down the street. On a similar note, Laser has a questionable relationship with his friend Clay (Eddie Hassell) but his mothers aren’t quite sure how to poke him for answers.


One night, Laser asks Joni to make a call to find out who their biological father is (since she’s now of legal age). The “donor” agrees to meet them. He’s a restaurant owner named Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who drives a motorcycle, listens to Joni Mitchell and is generally adventurous and accepting. On the whole, Paul is a decent guy and he’s invited to dinner by the reluctant Nic and Jules. Nic remains cautious but Jules takes a liking to him, which is why she agrees to re-design his lawn. Before long, they have an affair and all hell breaks loose, although we get the sense hell would have broken loose anyway; the affair was just a catalyst.

There are some amusing and dramatic moments in The Kids are All Right, and the cast is strong and a joy to watch, but the overall story doesn’t add up to much. It gradually becomes just another comedy-drama about adultery, trust and rebellious teenagers, all of which we’ve seen before in movies like American Beauty. The sex scenes even have a sitcom-like feel and it’s hard to take them seriously. Each conflict just seemed to tread familiar ground and none of them felt special enough to get wholly invested in. This is a shame since the performances are so good, especially Bening, who’s having a good year after Mother and Child. There’s one terrific scene where her character sings before learning a difficult truth. It’s quite a powerful moment.

Perhaps writer-director Lisa Cholodenko thought it was enough that her two main characters were lesbians, as if this quality was enough to distinguish the story from others like it. But even with lesbians at the center, I didn’t think it accomplished anything new or radical. In fact, to me, Cholodenko plays the ending and overall message too safely. The movie is not bad by any means, but it’s too standard for a trip to the theater. Wait to watch it at home. It’s a familiar story that can be moderately enjoyed in a familiar environment.



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