The Kids Are All Right (Focus Features, R)

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As you can expect, the plot is a little more complicated than what you might presume.

 

Entering itself as the first likely Oscar contender this year is Lisa Cholodenko's Sundance hit The Kids Are All Right, which is a very actor-friendly film about what happens when a sperm donor is contacted by his late-teens children, and how his newfound presence changes everyone involved's life. Given the type of movie this is, both screenplay and acting nominations seem likely, but it will probably only be able to grab a Best Picture nomination if audiences really grab onto it.


As you can expect, the plot is a little more complicated than what you might presume—the two late-teens kids, 18-year old Joni and 15-year old Laser (Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson, respectively), are the children of the happily-married lesbian couple Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), and they were born of the same sperm donor (Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo) by different mommies. At Laser's nagging, Joni uses her powers as an 18-year old to contact Paul for the first time; none of the family of four has ever met him before. Unlike a lot of movies like this, Paul is actually a very decent guy-he's moved and scared and fascinated by his unknown children, and tries sincerely to ingratiate himself into their lives, which causes some turmoil with Nic and Jules.


Two of The Kids Are All Right's greatest strengths are it naturalism and Mark Ruffalo (and yes, these two things often go hand in hand). All of the characters in Kids, with no exception, feel as complex as people you would meet in everyday life-they make good choices, they make bad choices, they're selfish, they're interesting, and ultimately they're kind of appalling. And while Bening is fine as the no parent and Moore is subpar compared to her usual self as the yes parent Jules, it's really Ruffalo who steals the movie, playing a neo-hippie cad that wants very much to do what's right for his new children. Other bits and pieces of the film fall nicely into place, too. Wasikowska furthers our right to compare her with a young Claire Danes in both acting ability and looks, and Hutcherson is disarmingly sincere as Laser, who is about to lose his sister to college but finds a cool new dad in the meantime. And aside from its The Who-referencing title, the soundtrack is crammed with good stuff; everything from David Bowie to Deerhoof.


That said, The Kids Are All Right left me surprisingly cold. It isn't that I didn't like it, but I just found myself at a constant difference from it. Is that because my life is so different from those who are depicted here? Is it because my life is too similar to the characters depicted here? Is it the film's fault? Is it my fault? We'll have to wait and see. Regardless, I'm sure I'll come back to this one sooner or later. In the meantime, I don't expect it to go away anytime soon. | Pete Timmermann
 

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