Director Lisa Cholodenko first started gaining attention with 1998’s High Art (with Ally Sheedy and Australia’s Radha Mitchell), but it was 2003’s ensemble piece Laurel Canyon that really put Cholodenko on the map. The Kids Are All Right, the latest film from the US director, won a Teddy (the Official Queer Award at the Berlin International Film Festival), closed the Sydney Film Festival in June this year and is currently screening as part of Melbourne International Film Festival. Having just about run out of festival names to casually link into this post, do we need any more excuses to discuss this quirky little gem?
Long-term lesbian couple Jules (Julianne Moore, A Single Man) and Nic (Annette Benning) live in relative peace with their two children Joni (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant), conceived through artificial insemination. When Joni turns eighteen, Laser convinces her to contact their ‘donor daddy’ and learn a little more about him. Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo, Where the Wild Things Are), a hippie throwback who runs an organic farm and wholefoods restaurant with his sometime girlfriend Tanya (America’s Next Top Model runner-up Yaya DaCosta, who likes getting her ya yas out for Paul). Things get complicated when Paul is introduced to the two ‘mums’, and the already complicated family relationships have a few new branches to attend to.
The Kids Are All Right is filled with a terrific cast that does its best to make this completely dysfunctional family wholly believable. The determined flightiness of Julianne Moore, who seems contractually obliged to remove articles of clothing in each of her films, balances the often ball-breaking Benning (there’s some alliteration!) in a relationship that is not lifted completely from The Big Book of Lesbian Film Couples. While there are a few excessive “let’s talk about our feelings” moments that don’t always ring true, and the relationship that forms between Moore and Ruffalo is a tad predictable, the film depicts a real family. Perhaps the usually reliable Ruffalo is the only element to disappoint, with a performance that is trying almost as hard as his character to be credible. The kids are alright too: Wasikowska brings a quiet strength to the role and proves she is much more than just Disney’s new Alice, while Hutcherson narrowly avoids being the angsty emo that he could have so easily descended into.
Not as darkly comic as Todd Solondz’s Happiness or Life During Wartime, nor is it as bleak or melodramatic as the American Beauty/Revolutionary Road school of storytelling, The Kids Are All Right sits somewhere in that comfortable middle where good quality family dramedy tends to sit. Avoiding many of the obvious plot developments that could have easily cropped up, Cholodenko’s film is ultimately about the importance of family in all of its forms.
The Kids Are All Right is out September 3 in Australia from Hopscotch Films.