Sunday, 5 December 2010

The Kids Are All Right

A story about an unconventional family who are in fact far more conventional than they let on, The Kids Are All Right is as balmy and nourishing as a ray of California sunshine but with a firm grip on the neuroses bubbling beneath the swanky, terracotta suburbs. A rare indie that never idolises the lives of its characters, instead, it exposes a well-spring of philosophical uncertainties underpinning the lives of a supposedly hip lesbian couple, their children and the sperm donor who puts the cat among the pigeons.

Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) and Josh Hutcherson (Bridge to Terabithia) put in charming performances as the kids of the title, Joni and Laser, conceived separately by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening via anonymous sperm donor Mark Ruffalo. With Joni about to head off to college, curiosity compels her to seek out her biological father. Although Ruffalo's shambling, womanising restaurateur Paul isn't exactly what she imagined, she welcomes him into her family, and director Lisa Cholodenko (Laurel Canyon) takes great pleasure in examining the baffling collision of characters, sexualities and attitudes.

'Lesbians? Yeah I love lesbians' a bewildered Paul explains to Joni during their initial phone conversation. Such a vignette beautifully sums up the understated, frequently rib-ticking, pathos of the entire picture. For Cholodenko's film is very much a dinner-table movie (the poster also bears this out): in essence, one that focuses on the claustrophobic interaction between people of all stripes, where a piercing glance or conflicting eye line says just as much as the razor sharp dialogue. In this sense, Cholodenko's work shares much in common with that of Mike Leigh. And although she isn't afraid to get bawdy in places, more pleasure comes from the character quirks that feel astonishingly genuine.

Of course it helps that Cholodenko has cast her film brilliantly. Wasikowska and Hutcherson refreshingly downplay the expected brattiness of the teenage archetypes, while Moore and Bening invest each of their parental figures with such a rippling sea of contradictions and agitations, it's dazzling. All cropped hair and guzzling wine, Bening's high-maintenance doctor Nic calls to mind her mother from American Beauty (much less grotesque however), such a contrast to Moore's flame-haired, free-spirited Jules that one takes enormous delight in simply observing their chemistry. Their clear belief in the characters results in a family portrait that's poignant, painful and very, very funny, ripe with a sense of conviction that bursts off the screen.

As good as they are, however, Ruffalo steals the film, hook, line and sinker. Having built up an impressive CV of understated, layered portrayals (those who saw Shutter Island this year would agree), his mumbling, shambling commitment-phobe is a delight from beginning to end. Both bemused by the turn of events (witness the crackling barbecue scene) and, in the end, consumed by them as sexual identities are criss-crossed and spiral out of control, if there's any justice, he's a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination.

His dry wit and crippling insecurities also form much of the concerns of the film, one which pries open the sun-baked California suburbs to uncover a series of inescapable moral truths. Regardless of whether a couple is straight or lesbian, humanity continues to be bound by the same anxieties; it's a straightforward conceit but one that sustains the film brilliantly, always underscored by Cholodenko's canny mix of comedy and drama. The Kida Are All Right is more than just alright; it's one of the best films of the year.

1 comment:

  1. Liked your comments on Dr K's BBC site. I've also got a film blog - filmworm.blogspot Care to have a look?