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Film Review

The Kids Are All Right

Lisa Cholodenko, a gifted writer and director, who brought us the memorable Laurel Canyon, has made another fine film, this time an insightful and often comedic look at marriage. The Kids Are All Right uses a modern, unconventional relationship, a lesbian marriage, to illustrate an old theme, the difficulties of communicating and sustaining love and passion through the years. Nic, an ob/gyn (played by Annette Bening) is the dad in her genuinely loving marriage to Jules, a more free spirited soul (played by Julianne Moore), who has just started a landscape design business. They have two kids, Joni, a bright, pretty 18 year old, and Laser, her 15 year old brother. Both children were conceived from the same sperm donor. They live a very normal upper middle class life in the burbs, complete with new Volvo station wagon and regular family dinners. Nic is highly organized but somewhat controlling, and Joni, about to leave for college, is beginning to rebel. Jules too, wants to break out and begin another career, beyond being a homemaker and mother. Laser has been hanging out with a not very nice kid, and Nic and Jules are worried.

Laser has become curious about his biological father, and asks his sister to contact the clinic to obtain the name of their sperm donor. Laser cannot call because the law apparently requires the child to be 18 before they will reveal this information. Reluctantly, Joni calls, and gets his name, Paul. She calls him, and he is startled but friendly and curious. Paul (played by Mark Ruffolo) runs an organic restaurant and garden, and asks them to come over. And they do, in one of those life changing events. Joni especially, is taken with this bohemian guy, and Paul in turn, likes both kids. Nic and Jules are stunned to learn that the kids have contacted their donor dad, but try to make the best of it. Eventually the kids persuade them to invite Paul for dinner. The initial conversation is wonderfully awkward, but Paul is both charming and interesting, and the evening is fun. When Paul hears that Jules is starting a landscape design business, he asks her if she wants to do his garden. Jules jumps at the chance to get her first client, and the story becomes more complex. Things happen that change all of their lives, but I don't want to reveal more.

The dialogue is truly fine, and the film so rich, giving us characters who are sometimes foolish, often unintentionally funny, sometimes hilarious, but always sympathetic. Every bit of acting here is pitch perfect: Annette Bening will surely pick up an Academy nomination, with Julianne Moore close behind. Never flashy, but always convincing, Moore is reminiscent of Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Bening's character usually drinks too much, and is too controlling of the rest of the family, although with the best of intentions. The two actors that play the children are terrific, each with that combination of rebelliousness and need. The setting, in an LA suburb, is sunny and optimistic. Cholodenko clearly loves Southern California, and pictures it in the same way that Woody Allen celebrates New York. The music is another standout, with popular songs from Joni Mitchell to current hits. The Kids, as a film, is a real standout and enormously satisfying. Although I am a big fan of seeing things on the big screen, this will also show well at home. Just opened at the Bridge, and is sure to have a long run.

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