The Kids are All Right is a crowd-pleasing, feel-good comedy for an era in which the very definition of "family" is fluid and in flux. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are the "moms," two committed lesbian life partners in a loving "marriage" gone a bit flat. Mom 1 (Bening, the workaholic bread winner and "alpha" of the household) has all the dictatorial focus of an old world padrone, while Mom 2 (Moore, as a slightly zonked flower child) is wearying at being treated like an ineffectual accessory to her partner's more purpose driven life. Marketed well, this title will do well for distributor Focus Features.
As it does for so many parents, the Moms' world revolves around their children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). The brick that smashes through the living room window comes in the form of good-natured restaurateur Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a congenital bachelor with unaddressed yearnings for family and stability, and the sperm donor who "fathered" Joni and Laser without ever knowing they existed. When Joni turns 18 and exercises her Fertility Clinic right to contact her father, she inadvertently invites complication, adventure and a bit of heartbreak into her ordered but too-settled family life.
Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko has a way with dialogue that keeps Kids merrily percolating and a way with drama that keeps her characters and situations on a slow and steady boil. With a sure hand, Cholodenko steers her able cast from comedy of manners to coming of age (and middle age) drama to bedroom farce, without ever seeming to break a mood or shift a tone. Bening and Moore, two powerhouse actresses capable of going over the top when handled with less confidence, are as good as they've been in years, and Mark Ruffalo is an unequivocal delight. His Paul is equally swinger, hippie and smug entrepreneur, but he's never unsympathetic, and his gradual awakening to needs he never knew existed has an unexpected dramatic force. Part Dude Lebowski, part Arthur Fonzarelli, Ruffalo takes a character who could have been a caricature and lets us see his seductive charm, his slight pomposity and the cold winds of loneliness gathering around his heart.
But the soul of the movie is Mia Wasikowska, a radiant young actress who captures with quiet precision the quandary of a bookish "good girl" suddenly roused to wider personal and experiential possibilities, and to their potential cost. Like every other character in Kids, Joni is both unfinished and dramatically complete, and Waskiowska makes us feel all her young adult contradictions with a performance of gradation and self-belief.
The Kids are All Right is unswerving in its depiction of the gradual disquiet that can accumulate inside even the most seemingly comfortable life. That Cholodenko manages to make us laugh and smile over such uneasy material is what comedy filmmaking is, or at least ought to be, all about.
Distributor: Focus Features
Cast: Annette Bening, Julianne More, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Screenwriters: Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
Producers: Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Celine Rattray and Jordan Horowitz
Rating: R for sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use.
Running time: 104 min.
Release date: July 9