Every year has them, the “indie” hit that is all the buzz. Most likely your friend with thick rimmed glasses and stylish clothing from Urban Outfitters will tell you what you are missing out on. Slowly this film will seep into common pop culture, and transcend above normal indie fare. Last summer we had both Away We Go and (500) Days of Summer, quite content in their quirkiness, with A-list actors, and sizable takes at the box office. This weekend we have our first contender for the indie breakout of the year, The Kids Are All Right.
Nic and Jules have a normal perfect family, if by normal you mean a lesbian couple who has two children who share a sperm donor father. Both had children chosen from the same male specimen, and each carried a child to term. Nic (Annette Benning) is the slightly uptight mother, who is the bread winner of the family, and in a traditional sense fills the area of what a father figure would. She is authoritarian, but solid as a rock. She is the biological mother of Joni (Alice in Wonderland’s Mia Wasikowska), who seemingly takes after her slightly more together mother. On the other end of the spectrum is Jules (Julianne Moore), who is more relaxed, and might be described as a bit of a hippie. Her son, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), like her is more of a free spirit, and not as driven as his sister.
Their family has their normal troubles, the mothers worry that about the friends their kids hang out with, and if possibly their son might be gay. However, overall the family seems solid, and has a very functional core. Despite having two loving mothers, the kids, especially Laser, want to contact their father. Now that Joni has turned 18, she can place the call to figure out who their father is.
Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo) the free spirited, motorcycle riding, organic farm grower, and restaurant entrepreneur. The kids are pretty much instantly drawn to Paul, and he quickly becomes close to the children, much to the chagrin of Nic. Paul’s freewheeling lifestyle is much at odds with the by-the-numbers lifestyle she has set for her children. When Paul comes between her and her family, will things ever be the same again?
The Kids Are All Right is very much a family drama at heart. It is billed as a bit of a dramedy, but it seems to stay much longer in the area of drama, and only occasionally traipses into comedic area. Don’t be surprised (even if you didn’t have lesbian mothers) to connect heavily with much of the material in the film. The family might be a bit unconventional, but the problems remain the same in any family.
The hardest thing to take in about the film is at the time where it seems to revel in its pretentiousness. I’ve felt the same about many of director Lisa Cholodenko’s previous efforts. Although, this time she is smart enough to acknowledge it, and almost poke fun at it. The pretension of a character might be observed by another character, and called into question later.
What really make this film work though is its cast. Each one of the five main players in this cast serve up a distinct character, and what is even more impressive is the two youngest cast members hold their own with the likes of Annette Benning and Julianne Moore. Although, Ruffalo is the person in the film who really shines, as his devil may care character, who despite feeling genuine is obviously lost in what he wants from life.
I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed with the film at times. There were points where the film was painfully slow, and none of it was more apparent than the last ten minutes of the film, in which it felt like there was no climax. Cholodenko and writer Stuart Blumberg really seem to build up the tension in the first two thirds of the film, but it never seems to come fully to a head.
Despite a disappointing third act, The Kids Are All Right is a solid film that many will appreciate. Even though it was a favorite at Sundance this year, I’m not sure it will quite reach the heights of many similarly marketed films. If you are into dramas, solid acting, and don’t really mind a sparkless finish, you’ll enjoy this one.