The Kids Are All Right
How does Erykah Badu feel about you stealing her look?

Theatrical Release Date: 07/16/2010
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Cast: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta

Director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko is back with her latest discussion of non-traditional relationships in “The Kids Are All Right”. As a huge fan of her last effort, “Laurel Canyon”, I was hopeful this would be a welcome respite from the safe and marketable fare of late.

Well, that’s true for the basic premise and intentions here – where a lesbian couple (Julianne Moore, Annette Bening) raising two children (Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson) are forced to confront their issues when the kids track down their sperm donor/father (Mark Ruffalo). However, there are a few missteps in the script and one of the key performances manages to derail the emotional honesty being sought by the production (warning, a spoiler or two are to follow).

First of all, I would imagine that it’s a bit insulting to lesbians that Julianne Moore’s character be attracted to Ruffalo’s – even with the theory being her acting out at Bening’s controlling nature. I understand wanting to lash out at your partner, whether it’s physically, verbally or sexually accomplished – that’s just a hardship relationships can encounter. However, one shouldn’t compromise their sexual identity in doing so, especially if you are not in some crisis trying to establish your own identity.

Then there’s Bening’s portrayal of the bread-winning partner, whose need to control all aspects of her life is pushing those she loves away. This archetype is common and relatable, so my problem isn’t in the idea. However, if someone could differentiate this character from Bening’s in “Mother and Child“, aside from sexual preference, I’d really appreciate it. Both performances felt very one-note and keep the other actors’ efforts from developing further into something more genuine and realistic.

Not all is doom and gloom, however. Moore’s problems with her partner’s overbearing nature is one of the most identifiable aspects of the film and Ruffalo has always been good at playing well-intentioned but myopic characters. Their chemistry was far more believable, which was a bit of an issue to the film as a whole, but it helped to make their scenes play as well as they did.

Wasikowska and Hutcherson do fine for themselves performance-wise but are a bit short-shrifted by the script which only uses them as a plot device in order to create tension in the adults’ lives. As Moore and Ruffalo escalate their relationship, some more attention to the children’s lives (sans parental issues) would have helped to create more three dimensional characters.

So sadly, it’s a bit hard to fully endorse Cholodenko’s efforts to the masses. While I enjoyed most aspects of “The Kids Are All Right”, too much of the film felt a bit phony and the focus is squarely on Moore and Bening hashing out problems that were probably evident in their relationship from the beginning so choosing to explore them now felt a bit self-serving. A 3 out of 5, it’s still far preferable to some vapid rom-com about a pair of opposites learning they can’t live without each other but I expect more from this director – though maybe therein lies my problem.