Review: The Kids are All Right (2010)

I am sometimes slack about getting out and seeing movies. I’m also weirdly picky about what I see in the theater, a lot of the time. As a result, almost everything I saw in the theater last year was sort of silly and blockbuster-y. Additionally, I tend to gain interest in movies once they receive a lot of award buzz. I’m planning on seeing The Social Network (aka The Facebook Movie) sometime soon, not because I have that much interest in it, but because it’s likely to win Best Picture at the Oscars.

I admit these things, but for the record, I really have wanted to see The Kids are All Right since before it came out. Since it played in limited release and I had a lot of other stuff going on, I just now got around to seeing it, thanks to Netflix. Better late than never. It was worth the wait!

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are very nearly a typical suburban couple: Nic’s a doctor, and Jules is more of a free spirit, still looking for a path in life. They have two lovely teenagers, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). The main sources of tension in life for the family are the fact that Nic works too hard and drinks too much, Jules is embarking upon yet another business venture, Joni’s about to head off to college, and Laser is hanging out with a total loser of a friend. All pretty straightforward stuff, right? Normal, family stuff. Until Joni (at Laser’s insistence) contacts their sperm donor. Paul (Mark Ruffalo) is sort of an aging hipster: he runs an organic farm, co-op, and restaurant, he says things like “Right on,” and he sleeps with his restaurant’s attractive hostess. Business as usual for him, too, until he receives a phone call from the sperm bank.
Joni and Laser meet up with Paul, and soon Laser spills the beans to the moms, and they meet him too. For the kids, they warm up to having a dad. Nic feels threatened. And Jules, finding the encouragement from Paul that she lacks at home, begins having an affair with him. (Yeah, she’s gay, but he’s Mark Ruffalo … I guess?) Naturally, at some point, all this comes crashing down on the family’s heads, and everyone has to find their way back to some sort of “normal” equilibrium.

Sorry for that summary; sometimes it’s difficult to neatly encapsulate a movie. It’s hard in this instance because this movie seems so … normal. That might actually be its main strength, is its normalcy. I can’t think of the last time I watched a movie and just felt like the characters were regular people. They don’t have any sort of weird, movie-character schticks at all, no contrived careers, no quirks or tics that open the story up or allow for comedy … they’re just people. Because of this, the movie defies categorization: it is by turns funny, dramatic, and poignant. It is, throughout, very intimate. All of this speaks to a strong story, good directing, and outstanding performances.

I am not going to sit around and talk about Oscar snubs, but I do feel that in ranting about how Christopher Nolan didn’t get a directing nomination (I agree that it would have been deserved), people are really overlooking Lisa Cholodenko. She didn’t even get a Golden Globe nomination. It seems sad to me that a year after Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Best Director prize, we have another film directed by a woman included in all the major categories, but no director nominations. One step forward, two back, I guess. Cholodenko does a lovely job with this film, and deserves recognition. She will have to make do with the accolades for her movie as a whole, and for her outstanding cast.

People are also upset that Julianne Moore was not recognized by the Academy, while Bening was. I have to say that I think that is appropriate. It’s not to say that Moore is not excellent, because she is, but somebody’s got to be the weak link, and in this movie, she’s it. All actors should be so lucky, though, to be the “weak link” in a movie where everyone does a phenomenal job. Annette Bening is fabulous, Mark Ruffalo is truly impressive (he received a Best Supporting nomination), but I think it’s the kids that make this one. Mia Wasikowska is really touching and realistic as the smart, sensitive Joni, and Josh Hutcherson just absolutely nails teen-aged boy sullenness. Perhaps not a stretch, since he is, in fact, a teen-aged boy, but still. I think it must be a hard thing to translate well onto screen, but he manages it with such subtlety. He moves back and forth between rebelliousness and humor and an obvious love for his crazy moms with amazing ease. I thought he was awesome, although the only thing I will question is the idea that two teenagers would get along so well as siblings. Oh well, guess we have to deal with some Hollywood magic, right?

All in all, this is a great film. It’s so small and contained and so enlightened in its depictions. The relationship between a long-married couple, regardless of gender, the relationship between parents and children … all here rendered in a much more realistic light than any other movie I can think of. Of course, everyone is still twice as attractive as the average person, but it doesn’t matter. Because the movie overall and the script aren’t bogged down with extra stuff, the actors are able to truly give you their emotion, their connection with each other, and the story just stands alone and sparkles. Tremendous acting makes this movie absolutely worth watching.

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