Movie Mom

Movie Mom

The Kids are All Right

posted by Nell Minow
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use
Profanity:Very strong and explicit language
Nudity/Sex:Very explicit gay and straight sexual references and situations, nudity, pornography
Alcohol/Drugs:Drinking, drug use, by adults and teens, adult abuses alcohol
Violence/Scariness:Tense family confrontations, scuffle
Diversity Issues:A theme of the movie
Movie Release Date:July 16, 2010

Life is messy, and one of the ways we try to make sense of it is through stories. With their selection of detail and events and resolution — whether a happy or a sad one — they give us a sense of structure and logic and catharsis. They help us sort through life’s ambiguities and complications, even if only for a couple of hours.

At least, that’s what stories do most of the time. Once in a while, they are content just to reflect back to us the very messiness and ambiguity we are experiencing. And when they do it well, they give us a sense of recognition that is in its own way cathartic. This film manages to do that and to be subtly subversive, lulling us across some of our own internal boundaries with its matter-of-fact portrayal of family life.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a long-time couple who have each given birth to a child, biological half-siblings because both women used sperm from the same anonymous donor, selected as optimal on the basis of his profile. Now the children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska of “Alice in Wonderland”) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson of “Journey to the Center of the Earth”) are teenagers and curious about their biological father. So, without telling their moms, they contact him.

He is Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an organic farmer and restaurateur whose free-spirited approach to life is very appealing to two teenagers emerging from a home that is rather hot-housed by comparison. Nic and Jules have created a deeply nurturing, “Let’s talk about our feelings” environment that feels claustrophobic and intrusive to their children, especially Laser as the household’s only male. In a brief but beautifully filmed scene that opens the film, Laser looks on with a mixture of curiosity and longing as a friend casually roughhouses with his dad, captivated by this particularly male kind of communication. It may be in part this emotion that keeps Laser connected to a friend his moms correctly believe to be a bad influence.

Paul is an enticing figure for the teenagers, comfortable with his maleness and easy-going. And Paul himself is enticed by Joni and Laser, who surprise him with a sense of connection and stability he did not realize he was missing. Just as they are separating from overshare central in the house they grew up in as a normal part of adolescent search for identity, he is drawn to the road he did not quite realize he chose not to take. And this plays out in ways that threaten everything the family has built.

The title focuses on the kids, but the movie is really about the adults. The small miracle of this film is its portrayal of a long-term marriage, its perspective unadorned but sympathetic, satiric but tender. The dynamic of affection, distraction, familiarity, and frustration is deftly portrayed. The expectation of the movie is that audiences will take for granted that a same-sex relationship is just like every other relationship we have experienced and seen portrayed, and if there is any surprise at all it is how quickly we do.

And then, just as we get comfortable with the familiar discomforts of the relationship, it all gets turned upside down and we and the characters are asked to jettison yet another level of expectations and boundaries.

Bening and Moore are magnificent. It is a pure pleasure to see women with real faces on screen. They hold nothing back in allowing themselves to be seen fully in every sense of the term, opening themselves up with breathtaking generosity of spirit. The kids are all right in this film; the grown-ups are even better.

  • Nancy Spady

    Do you have any knowledge of the reasons for the (apparently)very narrow release of this movie? Yours is not the only positive review I have read, but it seems to be showing only in NY City, not the suburbs. Are the movie theater owners really this conservative? Or is it just the competition from summer family movies?

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Nancy — as with many independent films, they literally do not have the money for a lot of prints. If it does well in limited release, it will expand to more theaters. I hope it does.

  • Alicia

    Hi, Nell. I saw this on Saturday afternoon, and if the crowd was any indication, I believe this film may well end up going out of limited release. I agree with your review, and thought the acting was excellent, the script was both very funny and very real, and the resolution was satisfying and believable.
    Of course, being a woman and not gay, I thought Mark Ruffalo was incredibly sexy. But he’s also a terrific actor. Annette Bening proved once again that she is not a flash-in-the-pan as an actress. Julianne Moore was excellent, as always, and I really liked the kids, too. I think Mia Wasikowska is going to be a major star. There were a couple of false notes, for me, particularly as I thought it was unrealistic that Nic and Jules would need to be told by their 16-year old son that he was straight. Pretty sure they would know that in such gay-friendly household. This is definitely a strong “R,” and it deserves to be a big hit.

  • Rob Boyte

    I was really put out that this did not open on July 9th at the Regal South Beach Cinema on Miami Beach. I thought this would have been one of the best venues for this type flick, especially since it was the cover story for Regal’s Art Movie booklet Summer edition.
    It is definitely a must see for me, both from the write up there and from the trailer that I saw last weekend. Really admire all the actors and this review confirms my suspicions that this will be a very rewarding movie experience.

  • Laura

    I was also disappointed it didn’t come out in wide release but in Chicago it has gone from one theater the first week to several now (3rd week out). I loved this movie and agree that Mark Ruffalo is worth the price of admission alone. So glad to see a real movie for adults and not the 13 – 19 year old crowd! This is the best movie I have seen in a long time and I go to the movies about once a week. Strong performances and an excellent story.
    Nell, did you have an age you recommended this for? I am not sure how your site works.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Laura. If you look at the top of the review, you will see a “lowest recommended age.” I recommend this one for mature high schoolers and adults but as you can see in my parental advisory, many parents may feel that the material should be limited to adults only.
    Agree about Ruffalo! I love the way Slate’s movie critic has coined a verb — she says he “ruffalos around.” Which he does very well.

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