Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are more than 'All Right' in 'The Kids Are All Right"
The 2010 Sundance Film Festival started off a bit slower than expected, but the weekend finally showcased excellent new films and one that will gain a tremendous amount of attention after its debut Monday night is Lisa Cholodenko's "The Kids Are All Right." Featuring awards-worthy performances by Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska ("Alice in Wonderland") and Josh Hutcherson ("Bridge to Terabithia"), "All Right" is hands down one of the best films of the festival.
Set in contemporary Los Angeles, "All Right" begins with a seemingly happy lesbian couple, Nic and Jules (Moore and Bening), and their 18-year-old daughter Joni (Wasikowska) and 15-year-old son Laser (Hutcherson) who were both conceived via an unknown sperm donor. When Joni hits 18 she has the legal right to find out who the donor was and while she has no intention of uncovering her biological father, her brother guilts her into doing so for his sake (unbeknownst to their "momzies"). Paul, who owns a hip LA restaurant, agrees to meet both of them not really knowing what to expect, but is immediately fascinated by his offspring. On the other hand, Joni surprisingly enjoys the face-to-face, but Laser is disappointed as he has obviously over built his father in his head and wants to leave their one meeting at that. Instead, a series of events are set into motion which finds Paul increasingly involved in both his kids and their moms' lives.
This subject matter could be treated overly seriously in different hands, but Cholodenko -- who is best known for her impressive debut "High Art" -- doesn't ignore the humorous aspects of the situation. In fact, knowing she needs to create sympathy for everyone involved (including not-so liberal audiences), she even dances with playing the comedy a bit broadly at first. However, its the expertise of Bening, Moore and Ruffalo (who delivers some of his best work here) that keeps the entire scenario grounded and believable. Moreover, the film's is impressive in communicating to its audience that Nic and Jules may be gay, but their 20 years plus relationship suffers from the same ups and downs that any marriage -- either straight or gay -- would go through. Moreover, as the title suggests, the kids may not have most of the problems in this story, its the adults that are a bit screwed up -- no matter what their sexuality.
Cholodenko's biggest achievement, however, and what may rank "Kids" as the most significant gay-themed film since "Brokeback Mountain" (and yes, those are hyperbolic words to be sure) is that its the most realistic depiction of a family with gay parents in the history of cinema (or television for that matter). Laser isn't a troubled teenager who hates his parents or is embarrassed by them because they are gay, they embarrass him the same as any parents would. There is no stereotypical scene of his friends saying, "Dude, your parents are lesbians? Hot!" or his being resentful for it or being nitpicked by other kids about it. Joni's issues with her moms are what every young adult leaving the nest faces. Even after the successes of "Milk" and "Brokeback," it's incredibly refreshing to see on the big screen.
As for the actors, both Bening and Moore are utterly convincing as a couple trying to still find the chemistry and passion they had when they first met. Ruffalo expertly navigates his character's self-centeredness with a genuine enthusiasm to try to insert himself into his kids lives for all the "right" reasons. Wasikowska, who impressed on "In Treatment" before landing "Alice," is spot on as the shy older daughter finally breaking free of her shell and Hutcherson, who has mostly been cute comic relief up until now, shows true range as the son who is really can take care of himself (much to his moms' disbelief).
Lastly, what's also remarkable about "Kids" is that the characters are so well drawn out and there are so few false notes that when its funny, "Kids" is, frankly, hilarious. And because of that, how far it can go, how wide an audience it can achieve may even surprise the distributor who wins the rights to this superb motion picture.