Friday, July 23, 2010

Higgens Network: The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right got so many things right. This isn’t a backhanded compliment placed only so I can say “But it got SO MUCH MORE wrong.” The truth is, the film had a set goal in mind and accomplished it more than admirably. In a world where independent films are starting to become as predictable as big studio fare, this is a fresh take on what could have just been another quirky family dramedy.

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.


  1. I hate to be picky like this, but Mark Ruffalo's character is named Paul. You call him Mark, which was probably just a typo, but my nitpicky OCD is kicking in, so I had to say something.

    I liked this movie a lot too and you're right about its authenticity. I wish the son as well as his relationship with Paul was more developed, but that's just a minor issue.

    This movie feels very much of its time, especially with Moore and Ruffalo's characters being eco-friendly organic pushers. And I like how the film doesn't push the "differences" of a same-sex marriage. Instead, it captures the universality of marriage.

    Last but not least, I must mention that I love Mark Ruffalo. It's bordering on a mancrush. Damn that guy is charming, even when playing a somewhat flawed character like he does in this film. I found myself rooting for him even when he misstepped.

    This turned into quite the ramble. Five paragraphs, jeeze. I'll stop yacking.

  2. D'oh. Sorry for the error. I'll edit that right after this. I think I was proud I actually learned a character's name for once. Obviously that wasn't true.

    I think you have a mancrush on Mark Ruffalo because he's now going to be the Hulk.

  3. Damn, I set you up for that one. I have to be more careful to avoid any type of Hulk jab.