Introduction

The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right
 

The Kids Are All Right is an astutely observed comedy drama about modern family life. ANNETTE BENING and JULIANNE MOORE have been widely tipped for Oscar nominations for their performances as a lesbian couple with two teenage children, both conceived from the same anonymous sperm donor. Their domestic set-up is disturbed when that sperm donor, played by MARK RUFFALO, unexpectedly enters their lives. This ‘wonderfully realistic film is both deeply affecting and riotously funny' (Sarah Cohen, Time Out) and is ‘an exceptional drama... the sort of pleasingly grown-up fare [that is] all too rare' (Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times).

The film may have an unusual pretext, but what makes it novel is that the family featured is so conventional. The parents have been together for 20-odd years and their suburban life in Los Angeles is comfortable and unremarkable. Nic (Bening) is the uptight and somewhat overbearing breadwinner, while Jules (Moore) is the laid-back stay-at-home mum. The teenage kids, who are indeed well-adjusted and likeable, are now of an age where they find themselves coming into conflict with the restrictions imposed by their mums.

The boy, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), is missing a father figure and persuades his elder sister, Joni (Mia Wasikowska), to contact their biological father (Ruffalo), as she is 18 so has the legal status to do this. They meet him but fissures develop within the family that threaten to tear it apart when Nic becomes isolated as the only one not to have taken to his ready charm.

The writers insist the film is not delivering a message about gay marriage and seeks to address relationship rather than political issues. Explaining its conception, director Lisa Cholodenko says that she and her girlfriend wanted a child and had embarked on the process of using a sperm bank. She then ran into a friend, Stuart Blumberg, who mentioned that he had been a sperm donor at college, and they decided to write the script together. She points out that a lot of donor kids are now coming of age. "That's a brave new world for families."

The Kids Are All Right is very much a family film; one could even call it a film families' film, featuring as it does the kids of David Mamet (Zosia Mamet), Disney magnate Michael Eisner (Eric Eisner) and Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw (Sasha Spielberg).

Re-view

The Kids Are All Right

FAMILY VIEWING

‘The best comedy about an American family since... Since what?... [It] is so canny in its insights and so agile in its negotiation of complex emotions that it deserves to stand on its own. It is outrageously funny without ever exaggerating for comic effect, and heartbreaking with only minimal melodramatic embellishment.'

(AO SCOTT, THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Throughout The Kids Are All Right, it feels as though we are watching a real-life family cope with the pressures that accompany kids growing up, while the parents come to terms with growing old and the changes in their own relationship. ‘Brilliantly observed', it is ‘perfectly in tune with the churning tensions within every family' (Wendy Ide, The Times).

This is partly down to the natural dialogue and easy rapport exhibited between Nic, Jules and their children. The film ‘has a loose-limbed observational naturalism... [scenes are] so awkwardly natural, or naturally awkward, as to seem improvised or even documentary' (Sophie Mayer, Sight & Sound).

The characters seem human and, on occasion, plausibly ridiculous. Lisa Cholodenko keeps the tone light, gently sending up Nic's seriousness and Jules's earnestness. ‘The acid of satire is applied to them sparingly and sensitively enough to avoid corroding the essential empathy that grounds the movie' (AO Scott, The New York Times). Look out for Jules's exposition to her son on the ‘inauthenticity' of lesbian porn; Nic's exasperated rant about composting and hemp milk; and an excruciating dinner party sequence in which she and Paul sing a Joni Mitchell song a cappella.

"Mums's feelings"

Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are thoroughly convincing as an ordinary, devoted couple in a long-term relationship ‘that has grown as easy, comfortable and as taken for granted as a well-worn pair of pyjamas' (Wendy Ide, The Times).

Bening, as Nic, is ‘particularly terrific, showing again... a skill for portraying prickly women', according to Tim Grierson in Screen International. She ‘has the harder task, unearthing her character's humanity without any of the cuddle factor that everyone else has been given. But, as she did in American Beauty, she makes the unlikable understandable, forgivable. In Kids... she manages to be funny in ways so subtle you might miss them if they weren't so perfectly played in the cock of her head, the roll of an eye' (Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times).

In response, Moore, as Jules, ‘gives one of her warmest and most vulnerable performances, playing the overly emotional yang to Nic's chilly yin' (Tim Grierson, Screen International). ‘There are countless moments when the actress strips bare before the camera - sometimes literally, sometimes emotionally, but always with an abandon that exposes all of the character's complicated layers' (Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times).

Bio-dad: keeping it local and organic

If the kids are all right, their father Paul, with his organic restaurant serving food from his organic garden, is LA right on. In playing the friendly neighbourhood sperm donor, Mark Ruffalo strikes an engaging balance ‘between oafishness and sincerity' (Tim Grierson, Screen International). He is undeniably good-natured but his hesitant speech and crooked smile form part of what Betsy Sharkey, writing in the Los Angeles Times, called his ‘self-deprecatingly smug charm'. He is cool in a way that demands no conscious effort, said Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘He thinks it's cool to meet his kids, it's cool their mums are married, it's cool they invite him for dinner. I mean... sure, yes, of course... I mean, why not? Sure.'

The kids - Josh Hutcherson as Laser and Mia Wasikowska as Joni - anchor the film, even while grappling with questions of their own identity, as their parents' craziness swirls around them. For it is actually the parents, children of the 60s, who have the issues and are struggling most with the constraints of their current lives. It falls to one of the kids (Laser, with a typically direct comment) towards the end of the film finally to call time on the mums' prevarication in coming to terms with their situation.

 
Pro-files

The Kids Are All Right

ANNETTE BENING

NIC

Bening's first acting was on the stage and she was nominated for a Tony award in 1987. Her first significant screen role, opposite Colin Firth in Milos Forman's Valmont (1989), an adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, showcased the ability to play women who keep their emotions in check for which she has become particularly renowned.

Her career stepped up a gear when her role as a con artist in Stephen Frears's entertaining The Grifters (1990), alongside John Cusack, earned her an Oscar nomination.

Bening met her second husband Warren Beatty on the set of Bugsy (1991), in which she played a gangster's moll, and they had the first of their four children soon afterwards. The pregnancy caused Bening to pull out of the role of Catwoman in 1992's Batman Returns although director Tim Burton subsequently cast her as an airhead hippy in his sci-fi comedy Mars Attacks! (1996), alongside Jack Nicholson.

In 1999 Sam Mendes's American Beauty brought Bening her widest audience yet for her role as the materialistic wife of Kevin Spacey's Lester Burnham. One of three films in which she has played an estate agent, it landed her a second Academy Award nomination, a Bafta award and a Golden Globe nomination. A third Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe award followed for Bening's title role in the period drama Being Julia (2004).

Her roles since then have included everything from indie dramas, such as Running With Scissors (2006), to ensemble comedies including The Women (2008). Her performance in Mother and Child (2009), as a spinster haunted by giving up a daughter for adoption, has been particularly praised.

JULIANNE MOORE

JULES

After a string of noteworthy performances including The Fugitive (1993) and Short Cuts (1993) and her first lead role in Todd Haynes's Safe (1995), Moore hit Hollywood paydirt in 1997 with Spielberg blockbuster The Lost World: Jurassic Park, in which she played Dr Sarah Harding. In the same year, her role as a kindly porn star in Boogie Nights brought acclaim and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Moore was reunited with Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson for the successful ensemble drama Magnolia (1999). After that, her outstanding performance in Neil Jordan's The End Of The Affair (1999), in which she starred with Ralph Fiennes, earned her a Best Leading Actress Oscar nomination.

She branched out into sci-fi comedy in 2001 with a leading role in Evolution, with David Duchovny, and in the same year played Clarice Starling in Hannibal, a role originally played by Jodie Foster a decade earlier in The Silence of the Lambs. The 2003 Academy Awards saw her nominated for two roles, Stephen Daldry's The Hours (2002) and Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven (2002). Her role in the latter drama remains one of her most acclaimed to date.

Moving effortlessly between edgy indie roles and Hollywood thrillers, Moore's recent choices have included comedy Trust The Man (2005), directed by her second husband Bart Freundlich, post-apocalyptic thriller Children Of Men (2006) and erotic stalker thriller Chloe (2009).

Moore earned strong reviews for her role as an uninhibited lesbian in The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee (2009). Also last year, a flamboyant role alongside Colin Firth in Tom Ford's A Single Man gained multiple award nods including a Golden Globe nomination. She recently appeared in five episodes of popular TV sitcom 30 Rock, starring Tina Fey.

MARK RUFFALO

PAUL
MARK RUFFALO
MARK RUFFALO

A versatile actor, Ruffalo has carved out a successful career flitting between supporting roles in big-budget Hollywood movies and leading roles in character dramas and romantic comedies.

He received rave reviews for his role in the 2000 drama You Can Count On Me, in which he played Laura Linney's errant brother. He followed that with Austin Chick's love triangle drama XX/XY (2002) and then the moving romantic drama My Life Without Me (2003), with Sarah Polley.

Cult hit Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004) raised his profile further, as did love interest roles in 13 Going On 30 (2004), Just Like Heaven (2005) and Rumor Has It...(2005). He played a leading role as a detective in David Fincher's Zodiac (2007) and was cast alongside Julianne Moore in the disturbing thriller Blindness (2008). Ruffalo joined indie movie favourite Adrien Brody for the lively comedy drama The Brothers Bloom (2008) and performed in Spike Jonze's family fantasy Where The Wild Things Are (2009). He then appeared in Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island (2010), with Leonardo DiCaprio, and the Steve Carell/Tina Fey comedy Date Night (2010).

Ruffalo has recently turned his hand to directing: he co-stars alongside Orlando Bloom, Laura Linney and Juliette Lewis in his feature debut Sympathy For Delicious, which won a Special Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

MIA WASIKOWSKA

MIA WASIKOWSKA

After several film and TV roles in her native Australia, this former ballerina moved into American television at the age of 17 and soon gained film roles. She appeared in Defiance (2008) and as a young aviator in Mira Nair's Amelia (2009), starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere.

Her big break came when Tim Burton cast her in the leading role in this year's Alice In Wonderland. She has since been courted for future roles by acclaimed directors such as Gus Van Sant and Cary Fukunaga. Fukanaga has cast her in the lead role in Jane Eyre, due for release next year.

JOSH HUTCHERSON

LASER

Hutcherson began his acting career at a young age and followed TV work with a leading role in the New York-set comedy Little Manhattan (2005). In the same year, he co-starred in family adventure Zathura: A Space Adventure and promptly became one of Hollywood's favourite young actors. He was cast in the Robin Williams comedy RV: Runaway Vacation (2006), and another family adventure, Bridge To Terabithia (2007). He also played the young lead in Firehouse Dog (2007).

More recently, Hutcherson has starred in Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (2008) alongside Brendan Fraser and in Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (2009). A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth sequel is in the works.

YAYA DACOSTA

TANYA

DaCosta first came to notice as a runner-up on America's Next Top Model in 2004, before embarking on a successful acting career, appearing in dance drama Take The Lead (2006) with Antonio Banderas and John Sayles's Honeydripper (2007). She also landed a small part in 2009's The Messenger, which was nominated for two Oscars.

DaCosta appeared in seven episodes of hit TV series Ugly Betty in 2009, appearing as Nico Slater, the daughter of Vanessa Williams's Wilhelmina Slater. She will next be seen in TRON: Legacy, due out this year.

LISA CHOLODENKO

DIRECTOR
LISA CHOLODENKO
LISA CHOLODENKO

After assistant roles on early-90s films Boyz n the Hood (1991) and Used People (1992), Cholodenko made two short films, Souvenir (1994) and Dinner Party (1997). Her feature debut, High Art (1998), starred Radha Mitchell and Ally Sheedy as lovers and was well received, winning seven awards including the Sundance Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.

Cholodenko subsequently landed directing gigs in television, helming an episode of Homicide: Life On The Street in 1999 and an episode of the lauded series Six Feet Under in 2001. She wrote and directed the 2002 film Laurel Canyon starring Frances McDormand, Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale. This was followed by Cavedweller (2004), starring Kyra Sedgwick and Aidan Quinn, who gained Independent Spirit Award nominations for their performances. Cholodenko, who lives with musician Wendy Melvoin, an associate of Prince, was invited to direct an episode of lesbian TV series The L Word in 2005.

 
Cinemas

The Kids Are All Right

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