Movies are an expressive art form and many filmmakers use them as a means to get their messages across. When walking into a movie about a controversial or taboo topic, it’s only natural to assume it will take a position. However, some filmmakers break the mold and like to explore issues within the issues. Last year’s brilliant war film The Hurt Locker never criticized nor praised the Iraq war and instead showed the indisputable effects it has on select soldiers fighting in it. The Kids Are All Right does something similar. It’s about a married lesbian couple with two children, but doesn’t seem to make a statement on homosexuality. It’s simply a story about an imperfect family, like all families, that go through trials and tribulations and must stick together to overcome them.
The film’s story is simple. Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) have been married for quite some time. Unable to have children on their own, they go to a sperm bank and artificially inseminate themselves. Both have a baby, producing Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Now they are all grown up and Joni is about to head off to college. Before doing so, she contacts her and her brother’s sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Despite Laser’s initial unwillingness to open up, the three bond. When Jules and Nic find out, they take it upon themselves to meet Paul, but conflicting emotions threaten to tear the once stable family apart.
The beauty of The Kids Are All Right is that it treats its characters with respect. It never looks at Jules and Nic as a gay couple. It simply sees them as a couple. They have normal conversations about their jobs. They have problems. They worry about their children and want to share their lives with them. They’re just like any married couple. The filmmakers ensure that their relationship is authentic through and through.
Even better is that their mannerisms make sense. When Paul comes into the picture, Nic understands why her kids sought him out, but questions why they felt the need to. Isn’t her love enough? So she becomes upset, especially after meeting him. Paul is unkempt, rugged and says what’s on his mind, though he means well. Still, Nic doesn’t like him. She was content with her family before, but now fears for its survival with him around. Some may argue her behavior is irrational, which is perfectly justifiable, but it’s believable and that’s why the film works.
You can understand her point of view, even if she is coming off as a little hot-headed. All of the characters are handled this way, even the uncouth Paul. Because of this, you can relate to each and every person and don’t want to see any of them get hurt, but due to a plot turn (that I’ve purposely skipped to avoid spoilers), that outcome is impossible.
Quite simply, the filmmakers do an excellent job of fleshing out their characters. You will relate to somebody in this movie, guaranteed. Even more remarkable are the performances, all of which are spot-on. Although never directly stated, you can tell which child came from which mother because they have similar personalities. Nic’s abrasiveness trickled into Laser while Jules’ easy-going nature clearly penetrated Joni, though both have physical quirks that attach them to their biological father. It’s really quite astounding.
So yes, this is a serious film, but not always. At times, it can be rather funny. I laughed quite a bit, especially from some early sexual double entendres, which goes to show how much thought and care went into the film's production. The Kids Are All Right is in limited release and most likely won’t get the audience it deserves, which is a shame. It may be about a gay couple with sperm donor kids, but I'd be willing to bet you'll see a little bit of your family in here too.
The Kids Are All Right receives 4/5