Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right is a movie about a dysfunctional lesbian family that manages to completely sever the adjectives. The family at its center is not dysfunctional because it has a surplus of matriarchs, nor are those matriarchs gay due to some inherent dysfunction. The movie tells a compelling enough story of family conflict, to which the lesbian dynamic becomes almost nothing but an interesting wrinkle. The Kids Are Alright is not an “issue” movie, but a “non-issue” movie.
This is due largely to the strengths of the performances. Annette Bening and Julieanne Moore seem to accurately capture the state of their characters precarious relationship: loving but troubled. At the beginning of the movie they’ve been together a long time, and while Bening’s Nic is a successful doctor, Moore’s Jules is struggling to find an identity outside her role at home. It’s an extremely normal marital conflict, but rendered poignantly.
The drama begins when their 18-year-old daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) gives in to pressure by her half-brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) to contact the sperm donor who “fathered” them both. This turns out to be a scruffy, motorcycle-riding, free-spirited restaurateur named Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo is amazing in the role, assuming all the mannerisms and speech patterns of his likable but flawed character.
After discovering that their children have reached out to Paul, Nic and Jules try to be reasonable adults, and they themselves try to get to know him. But their differing stances on how much they should have to do with Paul set in motion a set of betrayals and discoveries that provide the story with emotional power.
For a seemingly quiet family drama, The Kids Are All Right is filled with little characters and subplots which, though never rising to the level of the main drama, provide such a nice feeling of realism. This is especially true for Joni and Laser, who must deal with normal teenage problems, while also struggling to handle the threat to their family. It reinforces the film’s central argument that there’s never one easily identifiable cause for all your problems.
The Kids Are All Right is a smart, sweet drama that eschews most of the bells-and-whistles of a “gay” movie in favor of telling a great story as well as it can.