The Kids Are All Right (2010)

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Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Written by Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko

Rated R

Annette Bening as Dr. Nicole “Nic” Allgood
Julianne Moore as Jules Allgood
Mark Ruffalo as Paul Hatfield
Mia Wasikowska as Joni Allgood
Josh Hutcherson as Laser Allgood

Nic (Annette Bening) is a successful physician, a driven and ambitious obstetrician. Jules (Julianne Moore) is a free spirit, and her latest career interest is starting her own landscaping business. It is easy to sense that Jules has had many career aspirations, not sticking to any single one of very long.

The family unit is rounded out by 18-year-old daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and her younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Joni is a smart student with her choice of colleges, and Laser is a typical teenager, experimenting with the wrong friends. The family is loving, stable, and the parental component has hit some bumps in the road.

Laser is longing for the father figure he’s never had, so he asks Joni to research their moms’ files to identify the sperm donor who fathered both kids. Both Nic and Jules gave birth to children, using the same donor. Said donor turns out to be Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a charming bohemian gardener who thinks it’s cool his kids want to meet.

Joni and Laser take an instant liking to Paul, and he returns the sentiment. Joni doesn’t want the moms to find out, but they do, and they invite him over for dinner. Nic and Jules are liberal, but they are also parents – and Nic especially takes an instant dislike to Paul.

Paul thinks it’s cool that Jules is a landscaper, so he hires her to work in his garden (he runs an organic restaurant). Without giving away too much plot, Jules and Paul begin an affair.

There are many ways The Kids Are All Right could have veered wrong here. But writer-director Lisa Cholodenko hits all of the right notes. Nic discovers the affair, and the results are sad but authentic, not histrionic and the stuff of high drama. My only issues with this plot point: Jules does confess she allowed the affair because she needed to feel appreciated. Fine, but I think most lesbians would consider an affair with a man to be unlikely – even offensive. Most people do not switch sexual preferences like the flip of a coin. Either way, the family has been disrupted, the kids discover Jules’s indiscretion with Paul, and Nic is heartbroken and angry.

These are believable characters, and I liked them all. Nic is correct in her assertion that Paul is an interloper, but he didn’t ask to be contacted. Jules is correct that Nic is controlling and drinks too much, just as Nic is right about her concerns regarding Jules’s career endeavors and commitments. Joni and Laser’s desire to meet the man who provided their DNA is right, understandable, and natural.

The title of the film is perfect, since each of the five main characters is flawed … but indeed, all right.

Bening and Moore are wonderful as Nic and Jules, one of the year’s most charming romantic couples. The conversations between Nic and Jules are conversations we relate to: these discussions occur in real-life marriages. The film’s strength is that it does deal with serious issues, but it treats the issues with the lighthearted irony of life.

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