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The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are Alright

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

ARTIFICIAL insemination has given birth to three movies already this year (including The Back-Up Plan and The Switch) but Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right is by far the most intelligent and enjoyable of the lot.

Wittily scripted, insightful and poignant, the film drops viewers into the lives of one very dysfunctional family and consistently entertains as they attempt to work out the problems that ensue.

The family in question is headed by long-term lesbian couple Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), and their children Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), who were both conceived with the help of an anonymous sperm donor.

Tensions already abound within the family, but become exacerbated when Joni and Laser decide to contact their biological father – an easygoing organic farmer and restauranteur named Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who subsequently enters all their lives and threatens to tear them apart.

Paul’s laidback charm immediately appeals to the kids, who warm to his liberal nature, as well as the down-trodden Jules, who has started to feel neglected by Nic’s high-powered attitude. But few could predict the emotional fallout that results from the tricky relationships that ensue.

Admittedly, Cholodenko’s film isn’t without flaws itself, but feels far more emotionally authentic than previous Hollywood attempts to provide a comedic backdrop to the possible implications that arise from artificial insemination.

This stems, in no small part, to the time she and Stuart Blumberg took to perfect the script, and from the quality of the cast they’ve employed – all of whom shine in the warm Californian sun that fills almost every scene.

Ruffalo is on terrific form as the charming Paul, while Bening is suitably uptight as Nic and Moore as classy as ever as the mixed up Jules. Wasikowska, meanwhile, continues to build on the formidable reputation she has already starting to develop from In Treatment and Alice in Wonderland, and Hutcherson makes the leap from the cute kid of Bridge To Terabithia to angst-ridden teen in effortless fashion.

All five characters feel like flesh and blood creations, whose flaws are all too real and painful.

If there’s a criticism, the screenplay perhaps paints Bening’s uptight character a little too broadly during the first two thirds, making her an easy ‘villain of the piece’, before switching allegiances equally as blatantly during the final third.

But the actors work hard to compensate for such ‘failings’, with Bening emerging from her cold-hearted control freak to strike a genuine emotional chord late on, and Ruffalo’s ‘too cool for words’ father figure eventually being given his own food for thought.

The film also strikes a near-perfect balance between the quick witted comedy and emotional content, which helps to give rise to the type of genuinely poignant conclusion you may not have seen coming. It doesn’t preach or judge its characters too harshly, and they’re all the more memorable for it.

Kudos, too, for making the food and drink element of proceedings so inviting – creating a Californian backdrop that’s every bit as inviting as Alexander Payne’s Sideways.

Put together, The Kids Are All Right is a fun, thought-provoking and emotionally engaging social comedy-drama that offers an extremely nourishing night out at the flicks.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 106mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: March 21, 2011