Many gentle souls still practice the delicate daily art of rapport with their fellow human beings, despite some whose approach to life is aimed more at “winning” some aggressive marketing campaign.
Although a lot of movies today rely on computer-generated robots in explosive battles requiring no subtitles for foreign audiences, a few still feature people with fragile skin who share a home with others and navigate a complex maze of feelings through subtle language and gestures and actions.
The Kids Are All Right is the latter type of movie about the former sort of people, and it’s a very good one.
Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, directed by Cholodenko and nominated for four Academy Awards, it is the story of a married lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) with one child each, by the same sperm donor (Kenosha-born Mark Ruffalo).
The four of them live in a fairly upscale home in California, and life there is orderly and clearly defined — mostly by Annette Bening’s character Nic, an obstetrician and wine-drinker. She has assigned her wife Jules more of a stay-at-home mom role, but Jules is currently trying to start her own business — again — this time as a an environmentally-friendly landscaper.
Paul, the kids’ sperm donor, is less rigid. He runs a little restaurant as well as an organic co-op farm nearby. He is an earthy free spirt who rides a motorcycle and hooks up with his restaurant’s beautiful hostess fairly regularly.
Add to this the fact the both children are trying to define their own identities as they enter adulthood (Joni is about to go away to college), and you have enough points of view for plenty of interplay once Paul and this family encounter each other.
As the slightly uptight moms, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are both very natural, and a touch vulnerable and insecure. They can be a little silly, but they try to catch each other. They’re sincerely doing their best to cope with daily life as gracefully as possible.
Mark Ruffalo absolutely beams scruffy charm as Paul. He’s the kind of guy who finds joy and humor even in difficult situations, and acknowledges it with a grin or a raised eyebrow as good as John Belushi or Marlon Brando ever gave. When he registers pain, it’s mostly with the muted humility of a gentleman.
Together, this cast turns a very good script into a treasure. Despite their unusual situation and California setting, these characters feel as real and regular as anyone on your block. They do things you’ll laugh at, but there is no wacky comedy. They get seriously hurt too, yet keep a lid on the drama. There are brief sex scenes and some discussion of sex, but sex is treated like something that — although at times embarrassing — is an activity people do enjoy.
Not every minute of the movie is perfect. For example, there are moments when Laser, the son, is just plain inscrutable. Overall, though, The Kids Are All Right has a rare level of sensitivity that makes it very worth watching, and good food for thought afterward.
I rate it three and a half out of four stars.