Movies: Sundance Special, ‘The Kids Are All Right’


Laser and Joni have two mommies. Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are their loving highly verbal moms. The kids amusingly refer to them in the singular as in "moms won't be happy about that". Moms has been together for decades and the kids will soon leave the nest. This family has its quirks but it feels like a generally happy one. But something is eating at teenage Laser (Josh Hutcherson, pictured right) and he asks his older sister Joni (Mia Wasikowska) to help him meet their biological father, the sperm donor. This is where Paul (Mark Ruffalo) comes in. He's a Peter Pan type who has never settled down and gotten by on talent (he owns a restaurant) and sexual charisma. Before too long, he's met the kids and to his self-amusement and surprise instantly cares for them. He very rapidly becomes a kind of fifth wheel, welcomed by the kids, worrisome to the mothers.

That's the set up.

But the joy of watching The Kids Are All Right is to see both comedy and drama spring from inside of each of the five distinct flawed characters (we all have our issues) until it ricochets off of all of the others. Things get complicated and messy very quickly. Everyone gets hurt. Despite the escalating drama, the film's great charm lies in how breezy and laid-back it feels even when it's approaching all of this tension. If this movie were a person, it'd be someone you'd want as a friend, someone who can find the funny in dark moments and who'd have your back even when they're pissed at you. As sentimental as that sounds, the film earns the good vibes. Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko (who previously gave us High Art and Laurel Canyon) makes sure you love each and every character. Even Paul, who a lesser film would vilify for rocking the boat so carelessly, inspires affection and sympathy.

It's not much of a spoiler to tell you that the film ends with Joni leaving for college (since her imminent departure is what prompts Laser's plot-kickoff request). Wasikowska's final closeup is one of the most beautiful things you'll see in a movie this year. No matter how long it's been since you first left home, that flood of confusing exciting contradictory emotions will come rushing back to you, it's so accessibly written on her face. All credit to Lisa Cholodenko for making a film that is both recognizably gay and universal in its understanding of family. After all, gay or straight, every marriage has rocky patches, every family loves and aggravates each other and every new relationship can cause ripples in older ones. Eventually we all have to leave home… whether we have one mommy or two.