THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT failed to convey an idea of what it really is: shots of actors smiling, shaking hands, hugging, laughing, grinning at each other over their plates at mealtime. There's pain and awkwardness and real human dimension in this picture; it's not one of those "here's-some-Motown-while-they-bond-with-basketball" movies. I also object to the word "smart" being applied to any movie, as the critical quotes on the poster were wont to do, because it's self-congratulatory -- not to the movie necessarily, but to anyone motivated by such a lazy term into seeking it out. I don't know that this movie is smart; it's intelligent, though, so deal with the syllables, people.
That said, I was reasonably pleased with this movie, which is dramatic without being overly earnest, which deals with an unusual family arrangement without obsessing over its eccentricity, or making it seem overly "special", and which had laughs that weren't derived from any obvious intention of being a comedy (they sprang naturally from real-life situations). The story is about a single restauranteur (Mark Ruffalo), a former sperm donor, whose approach to life changes when he is contacted by the teenage offspring -- an 18 year old daughter (Mia Wasikowska) and 15 year old son (Josh Hutcherson) -- he unknowingly sired via artificial semination with a lesbian couple (Julianne Moore and Annette Bening). The kids are motivated into exploring where else they came from by some signs of ordinary tension between their moms, brought on by Bening's increasing conservatism and alcoholism.
The film was co-written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko (HIGH ART), who reportedly lives in such a relationship with two AI'd offspring, which would account for the script's admirable attention to everyday detail, but which makes its frank and critical view of what's lacking from this central relationship, physically and psychologically, all the more impressive in its candor. (For example, the couple are shown pleasuring one another in bed while watching male gay porn, and are caught at it, causing them to awkwardly explain how they find a lot of female gay porn ingenuine, and how their internalized sexuality sometimes arouses cravings to see sexuality externalized... which is not only a fascinating insight, but lays the groundwork for Moore's bisexual fling with Ruffalo, which gives vents to the desires she's customized through pornography, and to his awakened desire to be part of his ready-made "family.")
Moore is outstanding as always, but she's equalled on the playing field by Ruffalo (who proves he can make even a fairly ordinary fellow fascinating - the film gives him "eclectic" music tastes for a male, including David Bowie and Joni Mitchell, the latter the namesake of his daughter, to subtly ingratiate him not only into this family but suggestively into its eclectic sexuality) and the remarkable Wasikowska, who may be the best young actress of her generation. Hutcherson's underwritten character, a sensitive jock, doesn't permit him as many opportunities, and the film's weakest link is reserved for Bening, whose preening, irritable, uptight, wine-crutching MD leaves her little room in which to be sympathetic or even lovable. The one moment when we're actually let inside her psyche, when she realizes the truth about the relationship between her partner and her sperm donor, is not left to her to evoke with skill but rather created artificially with camera effects. Extra points for casting the wonderfully wry and sly Zosia Mamet (Peggy's gay friend Joyce on MAD MEN) as Wiakowska's sex-obsessed best friend.
Viewed on DirecTV on Demand.