By Michael A.Smith
SCENE: A typical American family is getting ready for dinner. Mom is dishing out the salad to the two kids. There is an empty place at the table. Suddenly the front door opens. “Sorry I’m late,” mom says as she enters the kitchen. Please don’t send me an email telling me you just found a typo. “The Kids Are All Right” is the story of two kids…with two moms…who want to meet dad.
Joni (Mia Wasikowska, so good in this years’ “Alice in Wonderland”) has just turned eighteen. Soon she will be heading off to college. Younger brother Laser – no, not another typo – (Josh Hutcherson) likes to hang out with his friend and skateboard. Typical kids. But not typical parents. Mom #1, Nic (Benning), is a doctor. Mom #2, Jules (Moore), stays home and takes care of the house. While Nic is out bringing home the bacon, Jules starts business after business, none of them successful. When the film opens Jules has just bought a truck for her new landscaping business, certain to fail because she admits she knows NOTHING about landscaping. Each woman has had a child using the same donated sperm. Guess which kid is Jules? Laser has been trying to get Joni, now that she is eighteen, to call the company that furnished the sperm so he can find out who their biological dad is. Reluctant at first, Joni gives in and makes the call. And faster than you can say “who’s your daddy,” Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride begins.
Highlighted by two of the best performances of the year by two of the best actresses working today, “The Kids Are All Right” takes a new look at something normally taken for granted. Yes, the big attraction here is that the parents are lesbians. And there are a few nods towards the lifestyle. But by the end of the film you are so emotionally involved that it doesn’t matter. Whether it’s mom and mom or dad and dad or, surprise, mom and dad, EVERY family has to deal with life and the challenges it possesses. Sharply written by director Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg (who, according to imdB is currently working on a remake of “Slap Shot” – that rumbling sound was Paul Newman turning over in his grave), the film takes what could have been stereotypical problems (overworked parent likes to relax with a little too much wine, under appreciated parent looks for love elsewhere) and introduces them as if suddenly new ones. And again, this is in great part due to the work of Benning and Moore. With seven Oscar nominations between them (don’t even get me into a discussion about Annette Benning and the Oscars – it’s downright criminal how many times this woman has been passed over for a nomination. Was I the only person in the world who saw “Bugsy?” “The American President?” Ironically she’s the only actress to lose the Oscar twice to Hilary Swank) both actresses do superb work here. Equally good is Ruffalo, who plays Paul, the once-anonymous donor whose every action, whether well meaning or not, threatens to disrupt everything . Ruffalo, the soon to be HULK, has always been able to lose himself in a character. Here he succeeds in getting us to feel sorry for him, even though some of his actions aren’t well intentioned. As the kids in the middle, both Wasikowska and Hutcherson hold their own against their more veteran co-stars. Not only do they have to deal with the everyday experiences that all teenagers face, they have to deal with the elephant in the room – and each one, in a direct reflection of their mother, deal with it in their own room. Joni is a straight A student and very serious person, while Laser is pretty lackadaisical about the whole situation. Of course, with a name like Laser you’d have to be pretty laid back!
A great drama that is sure to be remembered at Oscar time (note to the Academy – the last name is spelled B-E-N-N-I-N-G).