Despite some questionable plotting, The Kids Are Alright is a heartfelt and funny story of the intricacies of a modern family.
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Screenplay: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
Length: 1 hour 46 minutes
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) have been happily together for 20 years with two children, with Nic conceiving Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Jules conceiving Laser (Josh Hutcherson) from the same anonymous sperm donation. Joni has just turned 18, meaning she can now contact her and Laser’s father, which Laser persuades her to do unknown to their mums. Their dad turns out to be Paul (Mark Ruffalo) who is a chill, happy go lucky guy running a restaurant with locally grown produce and enjoying the female attention in his life. Hearing from his children, previously unknown to him, is unexpected but exciting for him, and he becomes involved in the family’s lives more than Joni and Laser ever could have realised.
The main argument coming from conservatives over the issue of gay marriage in Australia at the moment is that children “need” a father and a mother, so it is incredibly refreshing to see a family that completely disproves this feeble excuse. The problems faced by this family are the same any family could go through. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore wholly embody Nic and Jules, it’s almost hard to believe they haven’t been in a committed loving relationship for 20 years. The same as any parents, they’re concerned about their teenage children, with Joni soon heading to college and Laser behaving like a typical teenage boy. And they’re also having a slight midlife crisis with Nic the breadwinner of the family while Jules is still trying to discover her passion, just starting her new landscaping business at the beginning of the film. Mia Wasikowska is so stunning as the quiet, super intelligent Joni that after her big moment at the end of the film I desperately wished for her a sequel starring her to make up for her lack of screentime. Josh Hutcherson also shows he’s much more than the franchises he’s known for with his portrayal of Laser who hopes to find a male figure he can look up to in his father and is sadly disappointed. And Mark Ruffalo as Paul perfectly creates this casual, slightly awkward character so incredibly relaxed about everything but then suddenly forced to confront the results of a sperm donation he undertook a long time ago without much thought. His manner jolts somewhat uncomfortably with the middle upper class family, with only really Joni liking him, until (spoiler alert) he asks Jules to landscape his garden for him and they end up having an affair. I have read that this aspect of the film caused some controversy with LGBT viewers who believed this to be a lazy trope to often used. With the director gay herself, and myself not, I don’t feel particularly qualified to comment, but watching the film before reading those about the discomfort with the plotline, I did feel uncomfortable and somewhat disappointed that the choice had been made for the conflict in a film to come from, yet again, a character having sex with a man. Especially as the word bisexual was not once uttered. The films resolution however redeemed itself somewhat. Paul deludely thinks Jules would split from Nic and that he’d instantly get the family that he now realises he desires. This belief represents the tired old concept of heternormativity always winning out with heternormativness and family acting as similes. However in The Kids Are All Right he is banished by everyone in the family from their lives with family represented here as simply people who care and love one another.