By: Addison Wylie
The Kids Are All Right, a film directed by Lisa Cholodenko, is a strange case of a movie. I was intrigued by the trailers and positive buzz the film has been getting since its Sundance showings and once I heard about the synopsis itself and the cast, I was extremely interested. After sitting in the theatre that day and the lights were slowly turning on, I came to an overall consensus that the movie really was great. The movie moved at a brisk pace, the movie offered some incredibly strong performances, it lived up to its interesting synopsis, and overall, I had a great time being involved in this life within the movie. However, I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed in addition to feeling like I watched a solid film. The camera work started zooming through my head or any factors for that matter that would make this movie stick in my head. Ultimately, I came to another consensus. The Kids Are All Right is very strong story and character-wise but if the film was judged on its technical merits and its writing, the film still has some faults.
Siblings Joni and Laser, played by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson, are the children of two lesbian mothers, Jules and Nic, played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening. The family is able to talk to each other very openly and are currently going through a new change; Joni moving away to college. Laser, on the other hand, has a question on his mind though. A question in regards to their biological dad. Because he isn’t old enough to track down the sperm donor, he has asked Joni multiple times to find out and to arrange a meeting for all three to meet. After the umpteenth time, Joni agrees and calls up the sperm donor cliic and receives the sperm donor’s phone number. Enter Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo, a laid back slacker who is comfortable with his life. When Paul, Joni, and Laser finally meet, Joni is quite surprised but Laser is disappointed in the final product. When the two mothers find out that they’re children have been contacting Paul, the family agrees to let Paul into their lives more. However, is this ultimately a wise choice?
The film itself owes a substantial amount of credit to the performances. Moore and Bening are very convincing as two lovers who have known each other for a long time. The fact that they downplay their sexual preference for the most part during the film is a very impressive move and can show that both actresses are very committed to showing balance in their performances. Jules and Nic are fully rounded characters that we believe are real people. The same can be said for the children. Hutcherson does a very good job being the loving younger sibling. Much like Moore and Bening, Hutcherson is able to find a balance between “the good kid” and “the rebellious pre-teen” which adds a much more convincing layer to his performance. The stand out performance showcased here is Ruffalo’s portrayal of Paul. We’ve seen Ruffalo play spacey before but here, that character is much more developed. The audience has a much better grasp of his motivations and Ruffalo is able to add elements, like certain mannerisms, in order to expand his character even more. Sometimes, we don’t always agree with his decisions but we can see why he traveled down that specific path. All the performances were stellar to me; all except Wasikowska’s portrayal as Joni. I found everyone was able to find their place in the film except for her. Wasikowska’s performance was very middle-of-the-road, fifty-fifty to me. At times, she is able to capture that uncertainty young adults have when traveling away to attend school and she’s able to capture that uncomfortableness when she’s around her very sexually forward friend. It felt as though she needed a little bit more rehearsal time with some of her line readings which sounded stilted and awkward. There’s definitely potential within that performance, though, and I’m eager to see what Wasikowska does next.
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My problems, I suppose, lay with director, Lisa Cholodenko. She is able to pull impressive entertainment from her actors and actresses and I appreciate her ability to downplay a lot of the movie. However, having a lot of the elements being downplayed is the movie’s crutch as well. Cholodenko may have been aiming for authenticity but it’s so authentic, that scenes slowly start to lose energy. I may have felt this by observing the very conventional, dull cinematography but the problem may just be the script, written by Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg. It’s as if the script lacks action beats. I don’t mean that the movie has to be riddled with action sequences but the movie needs to keep me interested by having the characters meet problems. There are those moments in here, just not enough. I don’t mind when we have drawn-out scenes with the family eating dinner, getting caught up with each other, but these scenes, and others, are so dry that the movie runs the risk of losing my attention.
Even though there are moments in the film that tightrope across the line of being lifeless, the rest of the movie is very well done. The editing is superb, keeping this story on the rails and not taking a misstep in regards to pacing, and I really enjoyed the soundtrack as well. Nevertheless, the stable performances carry this film and help make this film into a very enjoyable experience.