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It’s all about family.
The most talked-about movie at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and the winner of the Teddy Award for Best Feature Film at the 2010 Berlin International Film Festival, The Kids Are All Right is directed by Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon) from an original screenplay that she wrote with Stuart Blumberg (Keeping the Faith). The movie combines comedic surprise with poignant emotional truth in a funny, vibrant, and richly drawn portrait of a modern family.
Nic and Jules (three-time Academy Award® nominee Annette Bening and four-time Academy Award® nominee Julianne Moore) are married and share a cozy suburban Southern California home with their teenage children, Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson). Nic and Jules – or, when referred to jointly by Joni, “Moms” – gave birth to and raised their children, and built a family life for the four of them. As Joni prepares to leave for college, 15-year-old Laser presses her for a big favor. He wants Joni, now 18, to help him find their biological father; the two teenagers were conceived by donor insemination.
Against her better judgment, Joni honors her brother’s request and manages to make contact with “bio-dad” Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an easygoing restaurateur. The kids find themselves drawn to the confirmed bachelor’s footloose style – especially in contrast to Nic, a principled doctor who has long established their house rules. Jules, who has been looking to start a new career in landscaping, also strikes up a rapport with Paul. As Paul comes into the lives of the forthright four, an unexpected new chapter begins for them as family ties are defined, re-defined, and then re-re-defined.
If the relationships that anchor Lisa Cholodenko's warmly funny films appear unconventional, their problems--their pleasures--remain universal. In The Kids Are All Right (no relation to the Who documentary), she takes on a suburban Los Angeles family with two teens, Joni (Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska) and the unfortunately named Laser (Josh Hutcherson, The Bridge to Terabithia), and two mothers, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (an atypically relaxed Julianne Moore), who conceived via artificial insemination. Now that she's heading off to college, Laser urges 18-year-old Joni to seek out their birth father, who lives in the area (her name comes from folksinger Mitchell). Though she hits it off with Paul (Mark Ruffalo, effortlessly charming), a motorcycle-riding restaurant owner, Laser has his doubts (troublingly, the 15-year-old's best friend uses "faggot" as an all-purpose epithet). After they introduce Paul to their parents, allegiances start to shift. While Nic, a doctor, serves as breadwinner (and disciplinarian), Jules, a homemaker-turned-landscape artist, provides the nurturing. Paul, on the other hand, lives free from attachments, inciting both curiosity and suspicion. Furthermore, Jules finds him strangely irresistible, which only expands the fissures in her loving, yet unstable union. As with Laurel Canyon, Cholodenko doesn't just create fully rounded characters, but entire communities. In the end, Kids isn't about children vs. adults as much as the family unit vs. the singular outsider. Though the story concludes on a relatively happy note, it's clear where her allegiances lie. --Kathleen C. Fennessy