“The Kids Are All Right” is quite conventional inside in contrast to what it seems on the surface. We see a unconventional family at the beginning, but we begin to see the dynamics within this family is not so different from the one within conventional families. The family has problems familiar to us, the drama of conflicts and hurts is unfolded in a way we expected, and, in the end, everyone is almost all right as we have seen in many family dramas. However, the movie is more than that. It is not just conventionally unconventional; it is also emotionally honest story with lots of heart.
Nick(Annette Bening) and Jules(Julianne Moore) has been a happy lesbian couple for more than twenty years. Nick works as a doctor, and Jules has been going between the role of housewife and several jobs(Her latest occupation is gardening). From the first moment we see them leading their daily life, we can clearly see the difference between them. Nick is a more dominant half; she sort of a father figure setting some strict rules to their kids. And Passive, less confident Jules is a gentler mother to them.
As the title suggests, their teenager kids are all right – nearly all right, at least. Both Nick and Jules were pregnant by same donated sperms and gave birth to their kids, respectively. Joni(Mia Wasikowska) has been an exemplary daughter to her parents, and she will soon go to a good university thanks to her good grades. Although he seems less qualified than his sister, Laser(Josh Hutcherson) is mostly a good son except his no-good friend.
Joni and Laser have been wondering about their biological father, and now they have the right to request the information about him from the institute. Without their parents’ knowledge, they get the information and then contact with Paul(Mark Ruffalo), who has been enjoying the life of a single man free of any commitment and responsibility. Their first encounter is a little awkward at first, but Paul is like a big kid who still does not realize he is approaching 40, and three soon become close. Nick and Jules come to know this unintentionally later, so they exchange greetings with him, regardless of whether they like it or not.
The story and its premise are unusual, but the movie shares familiar territories with other family dramas. Because of the appearance of an unexpected stranger, the problems in the family hibernating in the ennui of happy family life begin to emerge from the inside. Not surprisingly, they stir several feelings including anxiety, confusion, and discontent. Fastidious Nick does not welcome the influence from carefree Paul on her kids. Meanwhile, like any other spouses at the stage of weary married life, Jules finds herself attracted to Paul. As a matter of fact, it would probably not be much different if Paul were a woman.
Now the movie sounds pretty much conventional and mundane to you, but the movie still feels fresh and it is full of the life thanks to a thoughtful screenplay by the Director Lisa Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg. They take time to carefully develop well-defined characters and relationships in their story while inserting several small precious moments here and there. For instance, there is a hilarious moment when Nick and Jules try to talk openly with Laser due to their misunderstanding about him. In that scene, Nick and Jules are just like any other ‘normal’ parents, and we cannot help but chuckle at their approach as well as their misguided thought. We also see how Nick and Jules conduct their sex life, and it is depicted as naturally as the affair between Jules and Paul.
The drama between characters is constantly convincing and interesting even when predictable moments come to us during the third act. Some of them are melodramatic as predicted, but they depend on three-dimensional characters and are depicted with sincerity. The movie deftly moves from one spot to another spot with the rhythm of real world until it arrives at open ending, and we can clearly see that things will probably get better for the characters although the problems in the movie are not entirely resolved yet.
The ensemble is very good. Bening and Moore are dependable as usual, and they really look like a couple who have been living together for a long time. Bening is the most effective when Nick has to keep up her face just like any sensible person after learning something painful. Moore makes Jules’ flaws understandable to us(what an interesting year for Moore – she was homosexually seduced in “Chloe” early in this year, and now she is seduced in the opposite way in the same year). Ruffalo imbues Paul with casual charm. After meeting the kids he has never known, Paul begins seriously to think about his life, but he seeks the solution from the wrong corner. Wasikowska and Hutcherson hold their own place well among these talented actors, and Wasikowska clearly shows her talent more than her recent breakthrough in “Alice in Wonderland”.
“The Kids Are All Right” unexpectedly arrives in South Korea earlier then I thought. Coincidentally, the movie is released along with “Lymelife”(2008), another small but good small family drama in this weekend, and they will make a good double feature show for Korean audiences. Unfortunately, both movies are not advertised well. In case of the former, the advertisement makes it look like “It’s Complicated” to us, and I saw some audiences disappointed with the movie probably because of that. I hope there are many audiences who know what they will get from this wonderful family drama. It’s not often we come across the drama that can make us moved and smile.