Family is tricky -- and even more when it becomes unexpectedly expanded. The Kids Are All Right, written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko, is a both amusing and dramatic take on the joys and challenges of parenthood and marriage.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a long-married pair who are quite different. Nic is a doctor, a very serious professional. Jules is a bit dazed -- she could easily be a hippy -- and about to start her latest business venture of landscaping. Their 18-year-old daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is a few months away from leaving for college, while their 15-year old son Laser (Josh Hutcherson) spends most of his time with his delinquent buddy Clay (Eddie Hassell).

The big change to the family comes when Mia and Laser decide to contact their moms' sperm donor. Paul (Mark Ruffalo) seems like a nice guy: a restaurant owner, an organic gardener, casual in his relationships with women and about life in general. Paul hits it off with Mia and Laser, and the kids start spending more time with him. This has Nic and Jules feeling threatened, yet they don't want to turn Paul away and hurt their kids. But his presence soon has unexpected consequences, putting a lot of stress on the kids and the parents.

Far from lecturing about gay rights or biological vs. adoptive parents, The Kids Are All Right is about people and relationships. Nic and Jules feel like a real couple, whether supporting each other or bringing up old issues. The teenage kids may be filling two broad categories -- the too-serious student and the kid getting in trouble -- but they're not perfect or wise beyond their years. And Paul is just a relaxed guy suddenly feeling like a father. All the acting here is excellent.

Did I mention that this movie is also pretty funny? There's a lot of comedy here, from Jules' almost-dazed rambling to the kids asking too-personal questions of the parents. This isn't random jokes, but situational humor that's as much a part of the story as the drama. The Kids Are All Right is an excellent movie: thoughtful, amusing, dramatic, and ultimately entertaining.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

No comments: