The kids are all right in The Kids Are All Right. The adults are pretty screwed up — though not in a bad way. They’re messed up in a normal way, a way that comes from living a full, complicated adult life wherein you don’t always make the best decisions and don’t run away from the consequences when you do. Wherein you make some damn good decisions and enjoy the happiness it brings until the bad decisions threaten to smack you and ask you, “What were you thinking?” And, indeed, you have to ask yourself, “What was I thinking?”
The film is about normal people doing normal things. It’s funny and smart and poignant and real and universal. It’s one of the best movies about family I’ve ever seen: what family means, what you do to keep it together, how the ups and downs of it can drive you crazy, how the warmth and love of it keep you sane.
It’s so family-positive that I’m sitting back now with my tub of popcorn waiting to watch the so-called family-values crowd sputter and howl about it. Because the family here ain’t like anything Sarah Palin or Pat Robertson would approve of. Jules and Nic are lesbians. Uh-huh. As in two chicks. They’ve been married for 20 years, and they have a lovely Southern California suburban lifestyle, thanks to Nic’s (Annette Bening) being a doctor and all. Jules (Julianne Moore) is still trying to figure out what to do with her life (but Palin should identify with that). Jules has now hit on a notion of starting a landscape design company as a good opportunity to use her architecture degree, and she just bought a beater of a truck to haul around her crap without even asking Nic.
And the kids? Adorable. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is 18 and about to head off to college; she’s a tad shy and a bit introspective and hasn’t quite figured out the sex thing yet. It’s so nice to see a young woman on screen who isn’t a rampaging sex maniac and who is as equally tentative and reticent around a boy she likes as she is unafraid to take matters into her own hands when necessary. Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is 15 and still having a little trouble determining who makes a good friend, but he’s bright and confident and open to learning. And still, the reason the kids are all right is because they haven’t quite started to live yet; things still look easy and choices still look obvious in their minds.
They’re all so damn ordinary, really, and nice and sweet and totally people you’d want to spend time with. And that’s what will infuriate some people. How dare “liberal Hollywood,” with its “homosexual agenda,” try to normalize regular people living regular lives. The horror!
The actual movie, however — you know, the complications and stuff that make up the plot — comes when Laser convinces Joni to find out who their father is. Joni can legally do that now that she’s 18, even though it might be strange. (“He might be weird. I mean, he donated sperm. That’s weird.”) Laser really wants to meet him. And he turns out to be a restaurant owner named Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who’s a little bit funky and a little bit cool and a little bit freaked out by meeting kids he didn’t know he had, but he quickly learns to love it and immerses himself into the family.
His presence sets off all sorts of boat-rocking, though, between the moms, who are happy together but in a bit of a rut, and as a way for the kids (especially Joni, who seems young for her age) to assert their independence. And all the issues that the kitchen-sink drama raises will feel completely familiar to almost everyone: fears of growing up or growing old, fears of losing the people you love, fears of any kind of change in what has been comfortable and habitual.
Director Lisa Cholodenko, who wrote the script with Stuart Blumberg, has crafted a film that is honest, wise, and marvelously entertaining all at once, and one full of performances that are simply breathtaking in how they hit every right note and no wrong ones. The Kids Are All Right feels almost old-fashioned in the best kinds of ways, in how it mixes something close to screwball comedy with genuine emotion and passion.
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