The Kids Are All Right

Movie Information

The Story: The children of a middle-aged lesbian couple decide to incorporate the sperm donor who fathered them into the family. The Lowdown: A beautifully written and acted film that's very nearly as good as all the raves suggest.
Genre: Comedy Drama
Director: Lisa Cholodenko (Laurel Canyon)
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta
Rated: R

Lisa Cholodenko The Kids Are All Right is a very good film — though not, I think, quite a great one. And before anyone else asks me: No, the Who song “The Kids Are Alright” is not in this movie (but then again, neither is it in the 1979 Who documentary The Kids Are Alright, and that’s far more perplexing). On the other hand, you do get a bit of Leon Russell and a few servings of David Bowie (blessedly, Ms. Cholodenko appears to be aware that Bowie recorded something other than “Queen Bitch”). You also get a warm, funny, entertaining, slyly subversive little movie built around five very solid performances.

Cholodenko has said she didn’t set out to make a political statement with the film — but really, the minute you make a movie with a lesbian or gay couple at the heart of the story and then depict them and their children as being no different than any other family, you’ve made a political statement. And Cholodenko is not so naive that I imagine she is unaware of this. However, she’s done it all so cleverly — by adhering to what is little more than a sitcom structure — that the film becomes truly subversive through making the whole scenario seem so familiar. That, however, comes with a price, because Cholodenko’s sitcom approach also makes the film rarely surprising.

A small price to pay for a subversive act? Perhaps, but it’s also why the film never quite makes it to the level of great for me.

In case you’re unaware, The Kids Are All Right centers on longtime lesbian couple Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) and their teenage children Joni (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant). They’re a reasonably upscale middle-class family, which is to say they live better than most people you probably know. The kids are the result of artificial insemination -— one child each pregnancy, and both children from the same sperm donor. Into this stable home-life (albeit no more stable than that of any straight family) comes a bit of friction when the kids opt to track down, and then meet, their biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo).

First comes the unsettling idea to “the moms” (as their kids refer to them) that the two women are somehow not “enough” for their children. Then comes the even more disconcerting news that the kids — especially Joni, who wasn’t keen on meeting Paul originally — like him and plan on seeing more of him. Worse yet, it turns out that Jules also likes Paul, and that leads to genuine conflict, which I won’t go into for those who haven’t already read about it.

What makes this whole setup work so well lies in large measure with the performances. There’s not a clunker in here, nor is there an indifferent portrayal. All five actors seem to truly inhabit their characters — just don’t let their wholly convincing performances overshadow the film’s writing and direction, since each of the performances is grounded in that, as well as in the honesty of the characters’ shifting jealousies.

One of the film’s great strengths is that it truly has a handle on how jealousy works, and on the innate possessiveness of human beings. Notice, for an isolated example, how Jules is far from pleased when Nic — who initially dislikes Paul — ultimately finds common ground on which to bond with him. The Kids Are All Right is one of those rare movies where not only is it possible to understand the motives and feelings of the characters, but it’s also impossible not to see some aspect of yourself in each of the characters at different times in the proceedings as well. (Just where in the proceedings will likely vary from person to person, but that’s as it should be.)

The film is billed as a comedy, and that’s not unreasonable, though this is certainly not a comedy of the “laff riot” variety. Instead, it’s a comedy with a streak of sadness in it, and one that asks you to laugh — or at least smile — at your own faults and foibles. That might make it, for some, a slightly uncomfortable sort of comedy. Moreover, there are several incompletely resolved aspects of the film that mightn’t be to everyone’s liking, though they’re also part of what keeps The Kids Are All Right from ultimately falling too far in line with its sitcom structure.

Bottom line is: See it. I don’t think you’ll be the least bit sorry you did. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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8 thoughts on “The Kids Are All Right

  1. Me

    It had some pretty great moments but i think this ones been a little overrated.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I know if I go things will be a lot better for her.

    Sad thing is that it would have worked — both as irony and in a straight sense — in the film, and probably better than some of the kind of generic alt-pop that sometimes cropped up.

  3. Ken Hanke

    It had some pretty great moments but i think this ones been a little overrated.

    That seems pretty fair.

  4. TigerShark

    I’ve heard lesbians are upset with it…

    Just as gays would be if the opposite had happened and

    one of a gay couple cheated with a woman? Would that even be possible?

  5. Ken Hanke

    Would that even be possible?

    Happens all the time — and it’s been used — at least sort of — in at least one film, A Different Story.

  6. Sean Kelley

    I’m with you on this one, Ken. Smart, funny, insightful, brilliantly acted – but not quite great. Like you said, I think some of its more conventional qualities are what held it back; i.e. its sitcom-like structure and predictability (although there was at least one development I did NOT see coming).

    I will say, however, that if it had been less conventional, it may not be the same charming, crowd-pleaser it is now, so I can’t say I disagree with her decisions. I almost felt like it was like a gay, more feminine version of a Judd Apatow film – the smart humor, the messy/realistic relationships, the general easy-going vibe of the whole thing. Very cool stuff (although I know that in your case you might find the comparison an insult to Cholodenko).

  7. I saw this movie yesterday and loved it. The story is a winner and is very creative. Not standard Hollywood fare. I thought Lisa Cholodenko did an amazing job writing and directing. I also thought Annette Bening and Julliane Moore were incredible and true to character. Of course it wasn’t perfect. But I think there’s reason to celebrate any time a woman gets to co-write and direct a movie and it goes mainstream.

    Susan Gabriel
    author of Seeking Sara Summers
    (a novel about falling in love with your best friend)

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