Given America’s stance on same-sex marriage with the controversy-mongering Proposition 8, particularly in California, the emergence of The Kids Are All Right is nothing short of remarkable, if not bold. It etches a portrait of a middle-class Southern Californian lesbian couple whose comfortable marriage of 20 years is put to a test when the sperm donor of their two children arrives on their doorstep. Like every great of piece of cinema, the film draws comic, wry and sometimes searingly authentic observations of human foibles, and it doesn’t even try to be political. Instead, it centres on the personal rollercoaster of relationship between pragmatist Nic (Annette Bening) and bohemian Jules (Julianne Moore), questioning the issues that beset any relationship, straight or gay – commitment, infidelity and responsibility – and tackles essential family values so wittily and acutely it would give Sarah Palin a good run for her money.
Sure, it looks conventional and often have a sitcom feel to its aesthetic choices, but the real show here is in Lisa Cholodenko’s assured screenplay and the wonderful, engaging performances by its leads, Bening and Moore, whose convincing comfortability with each other’s presence creates screen dynamics that seem to go beyond just mere acting. Bening has never been this good for quite a long time, and in Nic she creates an impression of a family provider, a stable foundation, as opposed to Moore’s professionally wobbly, loose, laidback home buddy. Of course, the usually reliable Moore suitably delivers at her brittle best. And the film fleshes out these characters out fully, along with Mark Ruffalo’s Paul, a self-made “green” restauranteur who hides a man-boy beneath his calm demeanour. Some might gripe that the kids Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Jutcherson, respectively) don’t have too much material to chew on – but as the title suggest, they are all right. That’s because they haven’t entered the adult world just yet. And this is the parents’ show and the complex lives that they have built together. And here, unlike in modern mainstream gloss, characters are treated with respect and sensibility, that no matter how fallible, self-righteous or protective they become, that’s because this is a film about human nature and the natural awkwardness or comic embarrassment between family relationships. When it’s done right, it becomes funny and poignant. And this one definitely hits the mark.
Perhaps one of the most unapologetically honest American family dramas to emerge since Little Miss Sunshine. A funny, witty, wise and wonderful comic observation of the twenty-first century family foibles, with an emotional and sexual frankness that would make Sarah Palin’s toes curl.