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The Kids Are All Right
Time Out New York Project: Issue #771, July 8–14, 2010
Dir. Lisa Cholodenko. 2010. R. 104mins. Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo.
Budding landscaper Jules (Moore) and determined career gal Nic (Bening) are a Los Angeles lesbian couple with two teenage kids — daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and son Laser (Josh Hutcherson) — who they conceived through a sperm bank. The donor for both is organic restaurateur Paul (Ruffalo), a sleepy-eyes semi-fuck-up whom 18-year-old Joni contacts out of curiosity. The kids hit it off with their sorta-father, but the “Moms” (as they call them) want to grill the guy before things get too familial. One awkward dinner later, Jules has promised to redecorate Paul’s backyard with some flora, while Nic maintains her skeptical stance. And for good reason…
Lisa Cholodenko’s self-consciously low-key drama — a hit on the festival circuit — never quite shakes its sitcom-ish setup. The director alternates incident-laden storytelling with penetrating character moments that the terrific cast acts to the fullest. The sheer joy of watching Bening and Moore do dyke, with barely a hint of straight-playing-gay self-congratulation, mitigates many of the film’s missteps. These great actors can lend depth to most anything, even a contrived hidden-porn gag. Ruffalo is every bit their equal, especially when he’s being bad. The smile he cracks after he beds someone he shouldn’t is revelatory: Infidelity may be wrong, but in the moment it’s hella fun. Yet there’s something suspect in the way the film disposes of him, as if his very real complications (the paternal love he shows alongside his libidinous flaws) have no place in the unconvincingly traditionalist family portrait Cholodenko is painting. Moore’s “marriage is hard” climactic speech is particularly unfortunate — an Oscar clip trying desperately to mask its award-grubbiness, the kind of faux-profound summation that would make Aesop cringe.—Keith Uhlich