Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Cast: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska
Watch The Kids Are All Right online in the UK: iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
It’s not easy being a mum when you’re raising a family of sperm-donated kids. Jules (Julianne Moore) is feeling the strain of a long marriage, caught between the control-freak clutches of her female partner, Nick (Annette Bening), and the easygoing sexiness of their children’s biological dad, Mark Ruffalo. Naturally, their relationship soon goes up the proverbial creek without a dildo.
Throughout all the ups and downs, the kids are pretty good – Joni (Wasikowski) is making do with the stress of home life, until she escapes to uni, and Laser (Hutcherson) is indifferent to most stuff, including the bad effect his friendships have upon him. Together, they all make a flawed family, a realistic group of messed up humans mucking through the emotional crap that Ruffalo’s Paul dumps on their heads.
Filled with humour and telling observations, Lisa Cholodenko’s likeable script (co-written with Stuart Blumberg) dishes up witty dialogue without the forced idioms of fellow indie Juno. The result is a warm, feel-good affair that’s tightly written but feels loose – people walk out of scenes, laugh at the wrong things and sometimes just don’t bother replying to each other at all. Whenever you think a resolution is on its way, out comes a bottle of wine or a devastating discovery. That unpredictability is most effective during a dinner scene, which flows smoothly from a sing-a-long to an intense silence.
Breathing space into the awkward silences are Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, both on top form as the unconventional couple – all spiky chemistry and painful intimacy. But Cholodenko is smart enough to take the emphasis away from their sexuality; any cinematic novelty of their nuptial arrangement is swiftly forgotten, as Mark Ruffalo works his charming magic. Playing expertly off Mia Wasilowska and Josh Hutcherson, he’s every bit the willing father and unwelcome house guest, a man who wrecks a family but is impossible to hate.
Cholodenko’s drama drifts along at a comfortable speed that is echoed by DoP Igor Jadue-Lillo’s beautiful, laid-back cinematography. The naturalist style feels, well, natural. Which is exactly what a rom-com about lesbian mothers should be.