1 Hr., 47 Mins.
The Kids Are All Right May 29, 2020
oni (Mia Wasikowska), the adopted daughter of white liberal L.A. couple Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), just turned 18. It’s summertime — she graduated a few weeks ago, has college to look forward to — and as a sort of last hurrah before going out on her own, she has decided, along with her 15-year-old brother, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), to get in contact with and then possibly meet up with
their biological father. (Jules and Nic each gave birth to a kid and used samples from the same sperm donor.)
Soon enough, Joni and Laser are grabbing lunch with Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a 30-something hippie-ish restaurateur who extols the virtues of eating locally and who rides a motorcycle. Joni immediately takes to him. Laser, who detects what he thinks is smugness in Paul’s easygoingness, is more hesitant. From this meal we can sense this will not be the last time these people get together. We’re right, and complications inevitably ensue when Jules and Nic find out what Joni and Laser have been up to and decide to get to know Paul themselves. The women, who invite him over for dinner, almost exactly mirror their kids’ first impressions. Nic, an established obstetrician, is skeptical from the jump (“Did you always know you wanted to be in the food-services industry?” she asks with barely concealed condescension; get a load of her face when Paul says he dropped out of college). Jules, a professional wanderer who’s recently started a gardening business, is charmed.
Before long Paul is asking Jules if she’d be interested in having him be her first client (he wants to do something with his backyard but isn’t sure what). She agrees (“You could go with something Asiany,” she offers); soon they’re having an affair on the sly. In The Kids Are All Right, co-written (with Stuart Blumberg) and directed by Lisa Cholodenko (1998’s High Art, 2002’s Laurel Canyon), Paul’s meddling isn’t so much the primary conflict and more so the device that frees the turmoil that has long been collecting underneath the surface for the family. Though everything has for years been superficially stable, the 20-years-married Nic and Jules are certainly in the middle of unspoken midlife crises, aggravated by the high-strung Nic’s tendency to steamroll and Jules’ aimlessness.
It doesn’t help that Joni is heading off to college (these seem like early stages of unavoidable empty-nest syndrome), or that Laser, a recognizably angsty teen hanging with the wrong kids, is, characteristic for his age, hard to communicate with. The film begins at a moment of especially scary transition, which Nic seems particularly anxious about. Paul doesn't seem to realize he's a prodding device incarnate; he’s so lax about seemingly everything that he doesn’t much notice how serious the ramifications might be if his affair with Jules was
It will be, eventually. But Cholodenko has made The Kids Are All Right not in the key of an American tragedy but rather in the spirit of a semi-lightweight slice-of-life dramedy. No way it’s going to end in disaster. We never doubt that this “betrayal” by Jules, whose aftershocks back up some of the film’s most emotionally investing scenes, will in the long run only make this relationship stronger. The rocks this marriage has been on for most of the movie will melt — though perhaps only temporarily. Moore and Bening give exceptional performances — almost all exposed nerves. The real success of the movie is how they make us believe in this well-worn marriage. I wish, though, the film spent more time watching this family operate before Paul came into the mix; we don’t really know this group outside of when they’re being put through the wringer. But we have enough of a sense, and like this mix of characters enough, to want to know what its next big collective obstacle will be, and how it's going to deal with it. B+