Friday, July 23, 2010

A.I. Artificial Insemination: There’s Nothing Artificial About the Funny and Touching Domestic Dramedy “The Kids Are All Right”

What has great performances, a witty and amusing script, and a hip, indie look and feel? “The Kids Are All Right.” This is the latest flick to come out of Sundance and it’s almost guaranteed to be a mainstream hit. Think “Little Miss Sunshine” or “Juno.” I’m not sure if it’ll catch on like those two, but it certainly deserves to stand amongst them. It tells the wonderful story of an upper middle class lesbian couple and their two children and the wrench that is caused in their lives when the kids decide to bring their biological father into their lives.

What “The Kids Are All Right” lacks in dazzlingly visual design it makes up for with a great script and even better performances. Julianne Moore is Jules and she’s married to Annette Bening’s Nic. They are a happy couple and they have two teenage kids in which they each conceived by the sperm of one donor. There’s Joni (Mia Wasikowska) who just graduated high school and will be attending college in the fall and her younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) a typical fifteen year old boy. Laser really wants to know who their real father is and he’s not yet eighteen he enlist his older sister to seek him out. They contact him and it turns out to be a guy named Paul (Mark Ruffalo). The two kids first meet their dad and in one of the film’s many awkward, yet touching, and strangely realistic scenes.

Of course they don’t tell their moms right away about meeting dad. You see Nic is sort of a control freak, think the lesbian Carolyn Burnham from “American Beauty” except not as psychologically damaged. She’s an ER doctor and is therefore a little overprotective of her kids (and rightfully so). That also means she’s sometimes a little too busy with work for her partner Jules who’s a little more free spirited. She’s just started a gardening/landscaping business. And once the sperm donor plotline is brought out into the open, in another funny and awkward scene involving Laser and his two moms, Paul hires Jules to landscape his backyard. What follows is something weird and yet never feels forced: Paul and Jules begin to find themselves attracted to one another. I promise to say no more.

The film’s strongest suit is definitely the award-worth performances throughout the wonderful, close-knit ensemble. Bening gives a great performance and she’s particularly amazing in some of the film’s third act scenes. While her character might have some quirks that can be easily to dislike, she’s never unlikable. Bening gives Nic credibility as a woman who is always concerned and always has a wine glass firmly in hand. Moore equally matches her as the more loose Jules. Of course Moore is always a fine actress and here she’s gets an almost meatier roll because her character can quickly become the monster but she never does. You never side with just one character and I credit director/writer Lisa Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg for creating characters we empathize with even if they don’t always make the most rational decisions. Cholodenko refuses to make this a story just about the tribulations of a gay couple and rather makes it about a gay couple who go through all the same emotions and ordeals as straight couples. Of course this isn’t your traditional family, but she makes it as traditional as possible. Ruffalo is also extraordinary as a man who’s literally thrust into this family life and the way if throws his life off balance. He makes a difficult role seem effortless. Hopefully his work doesn’t go unnoticed. And the kids are definitely all right. They give great performances as well and equally match their adult counterparts.

I can see how someone might mistake this for just a dysfunctional family TV sitcom and maybe some will see it as such. I don’t. The film doesn’t have quite the glorious cinematic look that some movies have, but I don’t think it’s supposed to. It goes with a realistic look and that suits the movie. It’s pretty amazing how the film deals with these family issues in the most organic way possible. Nothing is forced and nothing seems out of place. It’s a rewarding and touching experience. It’s unquestionably better than all right. GRADE: A-


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