Family — no matter the shape, the size or origin — we’ve all got one. And while we’ve all got our problems and issues, it’s the general idea that it’s our family that will accept us for who we are and all our shortcomings. Still, the general consensus seems to be universal regarding anyone you’ve invested so much time with: can’t live with them, can’t throw them out the window.
The Kids Are All Right examines the idea of family in a way that is understandable and therefore humorous, all while taking care to differentiate between the reality of it and the notion of it. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is a just-turned 18-year-old girl spending her last summer at home with her 15-year-old brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) and their mothers, Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening). Overall they are a normal, functioning family, with ups and downs and bouts of teen angst most of us can empathize with. Nic, a hard-working physician, administers more rules and guidelines for the family than the more easy-going Jules — who is working towards a career in landscape design, despite her many prior attempts at other ventures gone awry.
Joni has more than enough on her plate in prepping for college and trying to stabilize herself in a now-adult status. Laser has been spending his summer days with his best friend and chief bad influence, Clay (Eddie Hassell). After observing a father-son interaction between Clay and his old man, Laser becomes inquisitive about the idea of a male figure that he can’t exactly place. And with the age of consent comes the ability to contact the man who made their lives possible, a request he prompts of Joni despite her relative disinterest. Of course, she acquiesces his request.
Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the once-anonymous sperm donor who, at age nineteen, made his donation on the premise that it seemed a lot more fun than donating blood. An organic foods-man, restauranteur and total bachelor (who takes residency in a super-fly pad in what has to be the Hollywood Hills), he leads a no-strings-attached lifestyle that takes an unexpected hit when meeting his children as a result of said donation. The meeting is awkward, but it makes an indelible impression — that a few joyous minutes of his life and a monetary compensation actually grew up into now walking, talking beings, striking up conversation with him.
Naturally, it only gets more interesting.
The Kids Are All Right plays out like a detailed examination into a really difficult conversation we hope to never have — and in the event that it is had, it is in the hope of those having it that a) mascara doesn’t run, b) dishes aren’t broken and c) everyone is “cool” with the situation. On the one hand, the film takes the “my two moms” meets “my sperm donor” story line and manages to carve out an endearing family dramady out of it instead of a slapstick car crash. Bening and Moore are thoroughly convincing in depicting an empathizing, smirk-worthy relationship between two individuals who have grown together and learned and explored each other. It’s almost perfect that, even with the polar opposites that are their career choices, there is also the reinforcement of how much they’re on the same page regarding their children. Ruffalo’s bachelor role is almost that of a dog who escaped the house and rethinks the decision, looking in at the window at a family eating their dinner, licking his chops. Although not really. In either case, it’s a look of desire and admiration, then eventually a vocalized over-observance that causes a stir. Sure, he’s seriously charming, which works to his advantage when stumbling upon the family he assisted in creating, but there’s also the idea that few flicks of the wrist, a tantalizing visual aid and sterile container does not a parent make. But, again, it does make it interesting.
The Kids Are All Right is a bit more than meets the eye, with an underlying theme that can be applied to goodness knows how many areas of transition life holds for all of us. Not only is it carried out by a superb cast, but it is highly introspective. The idea of wanting something, being unsure of how exactly to attain it, and more importantly checking to make sure if perhaps you have it already is an idea all of us can relate to, making it a fixed point in what has so far been a wavering summer film season.