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The Kids Are All Right

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Still from The Kids Are All Right

© Rex Features

Released on Friday, Oct 29 2010

The New Age approach to child rearing throws up plenty of laughs but this indie flick boasts sophistication as well. Of course with Julianne Moore and Annette Bening heading the family you wouldn't expect anything less, but the arrival of Mark Ruffalo puts this smug lesbian couple in a fluster. He's the anonymous sperm donor who steps forward when the oldest of the two children turns 18 and tracks him down. It's the stuff daytime talkshows are made of except that, thankfully, writer-director Lisa Cholodenko (Laurel Canyon) has a gentler touch than Jeremy Kyle.

Playing big sister Joni is Mia Wasikowski, a fresh-faced newcomer reminiscent of a young Claire Danes, in looks and talent. Though she finds the constant clucking of her "momses" quite annoying, she is contented and only requests contact with her biological father at the insistence of her 15-year-old brother Laser. That's little Josh Hutcherson of Bridge To Terabithia (and more recently, Cirque Du Freak) going through the awkward, squeaky-voiced transition to manhood. He feels the need for a father figure, but his expectations are thwarted on meeting Paul (Ruffalo).

With his shaggy hair, shiny motorbike and fondness for organic vegetables, Paul is clearly the type of guy who lives for sensation. He owns a restaurant, but that's where his responsibilities end. Inevitably though, he begins to reassess his priorities on meeting the kids. What makes him interesting to watch (apart from Ruffalo's natural charm) is how the truth of his immaturity is laid bare in his actions. Instead of trying to earn the kids' trust, he hops into bed with one of their mums, Jules. She's played by Moore like an elastic ball of neuroses, bouncing off the walls and straight into his arms when it seems like wife Nic is taking her for granted.

Bening plays Nic in a more contained frenzy, sensing that Paul wants a headline role in her family. It's a slowly building power struggle as Nic tries to put her finger on what exactly she doesn't like about Paul, but to Cholodenko's credit, he doesn't comes across as the villain of the piece. The story emphasises his naiveté and vulnerability as much as his selfishness in believing that he has found himself a readymade family. Jules is similarly childlike, craving Nic's attention which is always divided between home and her work as an on-call physician. Donning a floppy hat and shorts (as she tries her hand at landscape gardening) only completes the effect.

Often, the most fertile ground for comedy lies in the gap between how the grownups see themselves and how they actually come across. Nic and Jules are openly loving, tender and talky (making Oprah look tight-lipped) and they encourage their children to follow this example. But it gets awkward, especially when they have to explain the man-on-man porn hidden in their bedroom... It's the kids who call them out when the mask begins to slip, but the duplicity becomes less funny and more tense as the worst of the secrets are finally spilled at the dinner table. So much tension doesn't quite translate into a gutsy finale, still, this film is never less than heartfelt.


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