The kids are all right: Review

1 September 2010

Written by: Jean Kemshal-Bell

Kids, parents, mums, dads, brothers and sisters – family speaks volumes about our makeup. Who we are is not only determined by our genes, but also the household we grew up in. Nature, nurture and the notion of family have been depicted endlessly since the beginning of storytelling. However, every once in a while a piece of work comes along that dissects and probes these ideas. Enter The kids are all right.

Following her praised debut High Art (1998) and accomplished sophomore follow-up Laurel Canyon (2002), writer/director Lisa Cholodenko doesn’t disappoint with the The kids are all right.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are the two proud mums of Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Joni has just turned 18 and has the legal option of finding her sperm donor/biological father. Joni’s hesitation and protection over her mothers’ feelings are quickly put aside by the less apprehensive 15 year-old Laser. The kids organise a meeting with ‘donor dad’ Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an organic fruit purveyor who is the disrupting catalyst for the film’s duration.

Although Paul’s appearance initially causes anxiety, he shakes the characters from their very settled lives; for better and for worse. Painfully awkward encounters between the kids and Paul eventually progress into something warmer and paternal. The anxiety shared by Nic and Jules begins to disappear when Jules works on Paul’s backyard in her latest career move as a landscape designer.

The narrative takes the rest of the film into familiar territory. However, it is not the chain of events in the film that are fascinating, but rather the flawed and multi-faceted characters within. While dysfunction is a familiar theme, The kids are all right looks at people who are facing real problems, rather than dealing with dysfunction.

Cholodenko does a fine job capturing a modern family, where the parents’ sexuality causes tension but is not there to exhibit an anomalous relationship.

Bening and Moore give fearless performances as the dual matriarchs. Moore displays the vulnerability of a woman whose relationship has become habitual and complacent. On the other end of the spectrum, Bening is authoritative, shrewd and conversely unstable as Nic, giving one of her best performances to date.

Cholodenko, co-writer Stuart Blumberg and the cast create a family that is hard not to fall in love with. The imperfect characters’ dishonest betrayals, hurtful secrets and indiscretions are easy to relate to. This is likely to be one of the best films of the year.

The kids are all right screened to sold out shows at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival. The film is released Thursday.

James Madden completed his Bachelor of Arts at La Trobe University, majoring in Cinema and Media Studies. He contributes to The Vine,, X and Y Magazine and is a co founder of Film Blerg, where this review was originally published.