Jules - Julianne Moore
Nic - Annette Bening
Paul - Mark Ruffalo
Joni - Mia Wasikowska
Laser - Josh Hutcherson
Jai - Kunal Sharma
Clay - Eddie Hassell
Sasha - Zosia Mamet
Tanya - Yaya Dacosta
Luis - Joaquin Garrido
Cholodenko's uncharacteristic degree of comedy (in combination with her unusually high budget) can be understood and to a fair extent applauded as a principled bid to sell alt-family values to the mainstream. The kids of a married lesbian couple are alright, indeed, even or especially if that couple is wacky in familiar ways. Alas, this is the sort of movie in which illicit lovers agree that they'll never, ever hook up again, followed by a shot of them lounging post-coitus in bed. Cholodenko's previous work has been about how it's complicated to keep relationships from turning messy; this film simply has too much of "It's Complicated."
What the director's formulaic third feature does retain in full is her palpable and infectious love for characters and actors alike. By far the least likable of the bunch, uptight doctor Nic (Bening) nevertheless appears engagingly severe from the point when she learns that 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson) -- yes, Laser -- have secretly sought out and met their biological father, Paul (Ruffalo). Moore's well-sketched Jules is at once whip-smart and loopy, an underachiever whose landscaping biz remains stuck in low gear until Paul, an organic crop farmer and restaurateur who starts coming to family dinners, offers her work on his scruffy backyard.
This development naturally abrades the wine-guzzling Nic, as college dropout Paul, acting warm and sounding seductive via Ruffalo's lilting purr, appeals irresistibly to the kids in paternal terms, and to Jules in sneakily sexual ones. Nic's eventual realization that Jules and Paul have been tending more than his bushes is indelibly captured in a moment whose slo-mo closeup on scowling Nic, pumped up with sludgy background noise, makes it play like a fight scene in "Raging Bull."
It's more or less at this point that the movie, like the characters, begins to drop its glib defenses and score on an emotional level. The alternately comfy and edgy rapport between Moore and Bening hits peak levels in a scene where the two begin to pull apart. By far, the screenplay by Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg is most incisive in the film's final reels, as the effects of a culture clash waged on multiple fronts -- male and female, gay and straight, educated and experienced -- literally come home to roost.
As before, Cholodenko generously shares her keen ear for pop, the soundtrack ranging from classic rock to Wendy & Lisa, along with a too-cute scene wherein Nic and Paul, in a rare moment of bonding, warble their way through a rendition of Joni Mitchell's "All I Want." Working with stellar production designer Julie Berghoff, the director also displays a vividly geographic feel for L.A.'s funkier, leftist enclaves. All across the frame, tech credits for this upscale indie production are of studio-film sheen.
By Justin Lowe/The Hollywood Reporter
PARK CITY -- As Lisa Cholodenko's latest Southern California-set feature plays out, the title may seem particularly apt. An otherwise conventional romantic comedy centering on the mid-life parenting issues of a long-time lesbian couple, this love letter to gay-marriage supporters is respectably entertaining filmmaking, it's just not exceptional.
The cultural zeitgeist is just right for "Kids" to receive a warm reception from art house crowds and with a top-notch cast and Cholodenko's solid reputation, reasonable returns should be expected.
Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) have been together nearly 20 years and have two kids by artificial insemination. Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is a typical teenager, focused on sports and girls, although more experienced with the former. Sensitive, thoughtful Joni (Mia Wasikowska) has just turned 18 during her last summer home before heading off to university. Shortly after his sister's birthday, Laser asks Joni to follow up on a previous plan to make contact with their biological father.
Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the anonymous donor, is a laid-back entrepreneur and organic gardening enthusiast with a locavore restaurant but few other commitments in his life who is totally cool with meeting his offspring after a call from the sperm bank. Their first encounter, kept secret from the "moms," is understandably awkward, but soon the kids are regularly hanging out with Paul, until Laser inadvertently reveals their subterfuge to his parents.
Jules takes the news fairly well, but ever-uptight Nic reacts unfavorably, worried about Paul's potential influence on her kids. An informal introductory lunch ends with Paul inviting Jules, who is launching a fledgling landscape design business, to remodel his overgrown back yard.
Rather improbably, an attraction develops between Jules and Paul, and before long they are copulating like newlyweds, despite their shared guilt. Meanwhile, Paul has bonded remarkably well with Laser and Joni, offering them some respite from their moms' smothering parenting. Nic's chance discovery that her spouse is cheating with their sperm donor sends the family into a tailspin, with Paul left to wonder just where he fits in.
While snappy, realistic dialogue is one of the strengths of Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg's nonchalantly breezy script, the writers often strive a bit too obviously for perceived authenticity (the phrase "I'm just sayin'" seems to be repeated with the frequency of an advertising disclaimer). Despite some key character-motivation omissions, Moore, Bening and Ruffalo all deliver endearingly quirky comic performances, with Wasikowska also particularly effective as the confused and resentful Joni.
Cholodenko's polished directing and Igor Jadue-Lillo's cinematography burnish the boho LA settings with an almost tactile sheen, while production design by Julie Berghoff ornaments key scenes with revealing details.
"The Kids Are All Right" ultimately requires that audiences sympathize with the already familiar foibles of well-off, white Socal residents whose problems might seem fairly mundane to others struggling with crime, poverty and illiteracy. But whatever works -- "I'm just sayin"....
Venue: Sundance Film Festival
Production: Gilbert Films, Plum Pictures, Antidote Films
Cast: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Screenwriters: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
Producers: Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Celine Rattray, Jordan Horowitz, Daniela Taplin Lundberg
Executive Producers: Steven Saxton, Ron Stein, Christy Cashman, Anne O'Shea, Riva Marker, Andrew Sawyer, Neil Katz, J. Todd Harris
Director of photography: Igor Jadue-Lillo
Production designer: Julie Berghoff
Music: Craig Wedren, Nathan Larson
Costumes: Mary Claire Hannan
Editor: Jeffrey M. Werner
Sales: Cinetic Media
No Rating, 104 minutes