In an age where comedies so often grasp at straws to make us laugh, how satisfying it would be to see one that succeeds at making us laugh simply by not trying to make us laugh. Such is the case with Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, a wonderful dramedy of manners whose no-nonsense style delivers a perfectly measured emotional cadence by not drawing attention to itself.
Life is turned askew for a quiet suburban family when the teenage son and daughter, Laser and Joni, strike out to meet the man who donated sperm to their mothers, Nic and Jules. The donor, Paul, turns out to be a likable, laid back, free-loving kinda dude, and it isn't long before he and the kids form an attachment, leading to unforeseen complications when the kids' mothers are added to the equation.
To try and pick a standout actor from the intimate cast mentioned above would be folly, as this is a true ensemble piece wherein all five principles give outstanding performances which add up to a whole that is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Each cast member deserves their own paragraph, but to save space, I'll have to make do with just one: As Nic, the mom with the harsher personality of the two, Annette Bening evokes an abundance of love for her family that doesn't always know how to express itself tenderly. Her criticisms may seem hurtful, but that's often because they're regrettably true. The more lenient mother, Jules, is also more confused about her emotions, which Julianne Moore conveys with heartbreaking subtlety as the strain of her conflicting desires grow tenser and tenser. Mark Ruffalo's performance as Paul is relaxed and naturalistic, slipping into the character with a disarming ease that misdirects us from his own insecurities until his crushing final scenes. Mia Wasikowska approaches her character with great maturity, balancing the vulnerability and rebellion of budding adulthood in perfect tandem, while John Hutcherson exudes Laser's need for a male role model with just the right dose of youthful angst, no lean feat considering that youthful angst always runs the risk of getting on audiences' nerves.
For the genuine realism of their screenplay, Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg deserve acclaim. Void of snappy one-liners or bold dramatic flare, the comedy and tragedy stem organically from the characters and the complex relationships they share with each other. Subtext abounds in every conversation, and Cholodenko's tactful direction lets it gleam through without ever relinquishing that realness of feeling, with a little help of course from editor Jeffrey Werner, who gets all the right reaction shots at all the right times.
I hope nominations for Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress (Bening and Moore), and Supporting Actor (Ruffalo) are on their way, but we'll have to wait and see how the competition lines up before calling any sure things.
**** out of ****