More about the general concept of family than any particular situation, The Kids Are All Right is a drama about an unconventional situation which contains many instances easily applied to all sorts of familial struggles. The fact that it centers on a lesbian couple who happen to find their relationship complicated upon meeting their sperm donor makes it noteworthy, but I do think that despite a specific story and cast of characters, many of the lessons and discussions within the film apply to the lives of almost anyone.
The aforementioned couple includes Nic (Annette Bening), a doctor and the more controlling member of the family, and Jules (Julianne Moore), who is hoping to start a landscaping business, but has never been able to follow through on anything in her life. The two are in love but even at the film’s opening, we can see there are troubles. Together, they have two kids: Joni (Mia Wasikowska), recently 18 and heading off to college at the end of the summer; and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), who wants to meet the biological father of both the children. And it was just one father. Both women had one child from a single sperm donor.
That donor happens to be Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who owns an organic restaurant and acts as the antithesis to Nic. He’s a laid-back person who says “cool” a whole lot, which plays in direct opposition to the controlling, dominant personality of Nic. It’s little surprise they don’t initially get along after being introduced. Jules, on the other hand, takes to him quickly, and certain things happen which will jeopardize all of the relationships mentioned earlier. No points for guessing.
All of the issues which was already brewing is exacerbated because of Paul. Jules and Nic begin fighting more. Joni stops being the perfect child and begins to take more a more independent approach to her life. Laser questions whether his choice of friends is good for him. The kids and the parents don’t get along as well as they did earlier. The catalyst here is Paul.
The Kids Are All Right does not attempt to solve everything. Some people may dislike it for this. At the end of the film, while some of the characters’ problems have been fixed, there are just as many which are left open. You will have to think for yourself which path the characters will take after the credits begin to roll. Who will forgive whom? Who will even talk to whom? Will a seemingly stable relationship stay that way? While it’s not exactly a thinking film, there’s enough left open to ponder for a while after it ends.
This is a tactic that only works because of how strong and well-defined these characters are. If you’re thinking on the terms of “What would so-and-so do when facing Situation X?,” then you can be sure that the characters in the film are very good. When you think of them as people instead of as scripted characters who are fulfilling a predetermined plot, then they are a success. The writers give them strong characterization and dialogue, and the actors do a fantastic job of bringing the words of the screenplay to life.
The film, I believe, has the potential to speak to everyone. While its primary situation is awfully specific, I think it works to prove the point that these types of issues, relationships, and so on are universal, and the way it goes about dealing with them is the same. All families go through problems, and working them out is important; The Kids Are All Right knows this and hopes that by watching it you might learn something.
The reason that this movie works well at doing that, beyond its strong characters, is that it’s also funny, smart, well-made, and doesn’t ever have a tone that’s too serious. Some of its subject matter is certainly pretty dark, but writer/director Lisa Cholodenko knows that it will be a more appealing movie — and one whose lessons we might be more inclined to accept — if the comedic aspect and lighter tone are kept throughout. It has been edited tightly and shot well, too, both of which certainly help. There isn’t a poorly framed shot or a scene that drags.
It is also expertly acted. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are both incredibly believable as the lesbian couple, a fact emphasized when they explicitly state that they hate watching fake lesbian couples in the movies. Or, more correctly, the “movie-movies.” As the new-age hippie, Mark Ruffalo is charming. Mia Wasikowska gets far heavier material than Josh Hutcherson, and as a result shines more brightly. Surprisingly, each actors gets a lot of screen time; it’s more of an ensemble picture than one focusing just on the adults.
The Kids Are All Right is a very good movie. It is highly entertaining, and has some points to make and lessons to teach on familial values, regardless of how weird you think your family happens to be. Its strength lies in its characters, which are wonderfully written and acted. They feel as real as people in the movies can be. It also tells an interesting story, and has been shot and assembled with great care. This is a winner, and I absolutely think it’s worth seeing.