Once Joni (Alice in Wonderland’s Mia Wasikowska) turned 18, she was legally allowed to call and find out who was the man who was her and her brother’s (Josh Hutcherson) sperm donor. They’re worried to tell their moms Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) because they’re bound to disapprove. It turns out to be Paul, a college dropout who owns his own restaurant played by Mark Ruffalo. After a naturally awkward introduction, they end up really liking Paul so he slowly becomes a part of their family.
I like the concept of the plot, but what really sold me were the moments away from the plot. Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko perfectly nailed so many character interactions. The kids really felt like modern kids down to the sexually awkward Scrabble games on the bedroom floor. It’s not about exactly relating to the characters—Maybe you played Risk—but the shared similar moments. For once, a movie actually accomplished awkward moments or small humorous ones without relying on the same tired traps.
This makes for some fantastic characterization. When their marriage is working Jules and Nic are really nice to be around. You can see the affection and the lived-in quality. Then in the same aspect, when challenges come up, every note feels genuine and inspired. A lot of this comes from Cholodenko’s script, but even more comes from great performances from Moore and Bening. Neither of them falls onto archetypes but really create fully-fledged characters.
Even Paul, who is the closest thing to a caricature, is played out properly. He often talks about being a “do-er” and not really being able to be part of a team and whatnot. The film sets him up to think what he is saying is deep, without using him as an easy source of mockery. The humor in this film always comes from honest sources and that makes the film to be more fulfilling.
The movie ends at just the right place, but I couldn’t help but wish they provided a little more towards how all of the characters would end up. The film did such a good job investing me in these characters and it doesn’t drop the ball at the ending. I just left feeling confident about the fates of most, but not all of them.
Only rarely does the film have a scene where it’s there because it’s only necessary to move the plot forwards. They are only slightly contrived, but always enjoyable because of how excellent the rest of the filmmaking is operating. This is a film that deserves all of the attention it is getting.
That said, they still could have played The Who song during the credits.