“So sometimes, you’re together so long that you just.. you stop seeing the other person. You see weird projections of your own junk” – Jules, on marriage.
It is always fascinating to watch a slice of life being passed off as a film which blurs the lines between reality and fiction. The Kids Are All Right ceases to feel like a film after a while, because its wonderful authenticity is a very welcoming break from the cloddish and nit-witted blockbusters that have crowded the DVD stands for so long. Lisa Cholodenko’s assured, easy-going direction is the holding factor here: giving the characters the space to live and breathe. The actors give out all they can into five unique and multidimensional performances and propel the narrative like champions without breaking a sweat. What could have easily been a farce on lesbian couples turns out be a witty, moving, funny episode of a family which proves that ‘dysfunction’ is just another word.
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play Nic and Jules respectively – a couple who live with their kids. The kids, who’ve been conceived by artificial insemination, visit their biological father (Mark Ruffalo) Paul. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) slowly start to like him and bring him into their family. Where the film could have descended into monotony and formula; it entertains and surprises. Where it could have spoiled everything with unneeded sentimentality; it makes us laugh and think. Working from a screenplay co-written by her based on her own life (she and her companion Wendy Melvoin have a son by a sperm donor), Cholodenko mixes a comedy based on sexual frankness with sincere choirs of a family film.
It’s a joy to watch the cast on the screen together. The kids bring in the vitality, the elder trio do the heavy lifting emotions. It is simultaneously engaging and fun: this process of looking at something extraordinary being made out of ordinary people and their lives. Nic is the perfectionist and the control freak. Jules is caring, loving and confused. Paul loves organic, and is flawed but ultimately warm-hearted. Laser is an adolescent who defends his stoner friend before his moms. Joni is a quick-witted academician on her way to college. The commonplace setting of the film still manages to be absorbing, thanks to the actors who are in complete control of their respective characters, rendering them believable.
The story easily meanders around the cracks to avoid losing on our attention and ends in a devastatingly simple but genuine moment. Nothing is set to a blasting background score, nothing is exaggerated by long shots and none of the characters ring a false note. Of course they fight and hurt each other. Of course they make mistakes and regret it. The final product (which was actually rushed through post-production for Sundance) never feels convoluted. The pace is relaxed but never slow; the dialogue candid but never boring.
Irresistibly smart and appealing, The Kids Are All Right is much better than ‘all right’. It’s great. Definitely among one of the best indies out there.