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Movie Review: The Kids Are All Right

By James Beale
October 1, 2010

"The Kids Are All Right" is about the institution of marriage, yet it is also about a same-sex couple. One of the things the film does best is make the gender of the leads secondary yet essential.

The film also knows how to set its characters up in messy situations. Nic, played by Annette Bening, and Jules, played by Julianne Moore, have been together for decades. Bening and Moore's acting throughout the film is superb, creating a believable relationship complete with bickering and inside jokes.

Nic and Jules each gave birth to a child from the same donor. When the film starts, their family is stable, but not perfectly happy. Jules has no clear career path and feels Nic berates her for it. Meanwhile, the son, Laser, is doing coke and the daughter, Joni, is about to go to college.

The children find their "spermster" Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo, who is in a state of arrested development. Once he gets to know the kids, he realizes the situation he's in.

Relationships become complicated, lives change and the film is its strongest in the middle section. There is a strong undercurrent of sexual frustration with all of the leads, which manifests itself in some graphic sex scenes.

This is upsetting, since Nic and Jules' union is a happy one: The film seems to think sexual disappointment is natural. Furthermore, the problems with marriage seem unavoidable as well, two women or not.

The best scene contains dinner and a rendition of Joni Mitchell, which is entirely appropriate. Every character sees a different thing in the song "Blue," and this is conveyed only by facial expressions. Director Lisa Cholodenko is masterful at not allowing the characters say what they can clearly show. However, the lack of answers to the material and sexual problems that each character faces is the film's one tripping point.

The final act seems devoid of any answers to these problems and in the end, the characters resort to telling the audience how they've been feeling. The resolution is only partially satisfying, but it does not negate the previous hour and a half of brilliance.

Jules says at her low point, "Jesus, what is wrong with me?" In "The Kids Are All Right," no one is truly "all right." Still, even with our insecurities and lack of concrete knowledge, specifically regarding our own sexualities, the film thinks we will end up better than we were.

3.5/4 stars

"The Kids Are All Right" is playing at the Lyric from Oct. 1 to Oct. 5 and Oct. 7.