One of the most emotionally cathartic movies of 2010.
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play Nic and Jules, a married couple on the tail end of parenthood. Their daughter, Joni (Mia Wasikowska), is on her way to college, while their son, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), is in high school. Nic and Jules are happy and proud — at least until the kids decide to track down the sperm donor who is their biological father (Mark Ruffalo).
Bening’s Nic describes Ruffalo’s Paul as “self-satisfied” early on, and indeed that term could be used to describe almost all of the characters. A scruffy, motorcycle-riding proprietor of an organic farm and restaurant, Paul does seem to be something of a fantasy figure. Nic and Jules, meanwhile, take pride in being a prosperous model of an alternative American family. Their kids have survived having two moms just fine, thank you very much.
Then the movie starts chipping away at these characters, revealing them to be nothing more than the idealized perceptions they have of themselves. Paul turns out to be a less than perfect father figure, Jules makes a staggering lapse in judgment and Nic responds to seeing her family slip away by tightening her perfectionist grip with one hand and reaching for a wine bottle with the other.
What’s remarkable about The Kids Are All Right, however, is that the movie doesn’t deliver any sort of condemnation. At first this is frustrating – some of these mistakes are so egregious you want these characters to be judged – but eventually you come to appreciate the way writer-director Lisa Cholodenko uses each character’s flaws to make them fully human.
Credit should also be given to the performances. Moore gives Jules a tremulous vulnerability. Bening captures the terror of a well-meaning control freak losing her grip. Ruffalo, meanwhile, is brave enough to make Paul a slippery figure rather than a sympathetic one.
As for the kids, they’re more than all right, especially Wasikowska. The Alice in Wonderland actress has a wavering moment when Joni departs for college that had me dreading my own good-bye to my daughters, even though it’s way down the road.
I suppose that reveals the major triumph of The Kids Are All Right: it’s infinitely relatable. There is a reason why this movie about a very unique family played successfully in suburban movie theaters in the Midwest. No matter what its plot particulars, The Kids Are All Right ultimately takes place within the human heart.