Emerging as one of the critic’s consensus hits at Sundance, writer-director Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are Alright stars Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as lesbian partners whose teenage children are on a quest to meet their biological father (Mark Ruffalo).
Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir says its one of the hottest tickets in Park City:
All those people showed up because of Cholodenko’s reputation as one of American cinema’s best-kept secrets… Given the red-hot politics of the gay marriage issue, her timing is arguably perfect, and at any rate the movie is worth the wait. Cholodenko gets memorable performances from Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as the flawed, self-involved but profoundly human partners in a long-running relationship that’s hitting one of those slippery, middle-age danger zones…
I’d describe Cholodenko as an old-fashioned dramatist (in the best possible sense) whose heart and imagination are big enough for all these people. Each of the five principal characters takes a turn at the center of the story; each of them makes ferocious mistakes and must struggle to overcome them. It would be easy for her to cast Paul as the story’s comic villain, the blithe, privileged, good-looking straight white guy who screws up the happy lesbian household. But Cholodenko draws out one of Ruffalo’s best performances, capturing Paul as a sweet, sad Peter Pan figure whose principal sin is a sudden longing for what he can’t have.
Nic and Jules were doing a fine job of screwing up their happy lesbian household before Paul’s arrival, of course, but “The Kids Are All Right” ranks with the most compelling portraits of an American marriage, regardless of sexuality, in film history.
Not to ramp up expectations too high or anything, right? It’s not often that Best Actress hopefuls coming out of Sundance can sustain their buzz for a full 12 months. oh, wait…
Even more remarkably, it’s an overwhelmingly affirmative warts-and-all portrait, not a Bergman-style descent into the pit of marital darkness. Watching two of our finest actresses playing unglamorous, flawed and complicated women is a rare privilege, and in virtually every moment and every breath of “The Kids Are All Right” we feel that Nic and Jules have created something that, damaged as it is, must be saved.
From dinner-table repartee over thank-you cards Joni hasn’t yet written (“If it were up to you, our kids wouldn’t even write thank-you cards,” Nic says to Jules, “they’d just send out good vibes”) to a tense, too-much-information conversation with Laser about their taste for “gay man-porn,” Nic and Jules are facing age-old questions of parenting in a subtly altered context. If “The Kids Are All Right” may be an effective weapon in the cultural wars, that’s not because it’s offering some radical new vision of marriage and family. It’s because it’s so real, so sexy, so sad, so honest and so truly, heartbreakingly funny.
Tim Grierson, Screen Daily:
The Kids Are All Right is such a consistently amusing delight, one could almost miss director Lisa Cholodenko‚Äôs serious intentions beneath…
The gay plotlines in both High Art and Laurel Canyon suggested the steamy, provocative side of lesbian attraction, but with The Kids Are All Right Cholodenko has brought homosexuality into mainstream society, portraying Jules and Nic as just another married couple experiencing the typical ebbs and flows of a relationship. Cholodenko‚Äôs approach is brilliant in its subtlety, and by normalising her characters‚Äô relationship, she does her part to remove the stigma that homosexuality still faces in conservative sections of American society.
But these observations on the film‚Äôs politics should not overshadow The Kids Are All Right‚Äôs likeable, sometimes silly nonchalance. This effortless, just-for-fun quality extends to the cast. Moore and Bening have been guilty in the past of producing overly studied performances, but they make Jules and Nic thoroughly convincing as an ordinary, devoted long-term couple. Ruffalo is superb as a free spirit who has gotten through life on his carnal appeal.
Peter Knegt, IndieWire:
The performances are across the board fantastic, and it would not be a surprise if a year from now Bening, Moore and Ruffalo all find themselves in contention for Oscar nominations. Though it‚Äôs actually Cholodenko‚Äôs and co-writer Stuart Blumberg‚Äôs script that is ‚ÄúKids‚Äù‚Äòs strongest asset. Its power lies in how consistently funny and deceptively lighthearted it feels. But in the end, the affecting nature of the film creeps up on you. The film‚Äôs passionate final scenes leave you with the immediate realization that there is much more at play here than simply a sharp romantic comedy.
Set in California, Nic and Jules occasionally reference each other as married, but beyond that the film refrains from being overtly political. Their relationship is presented as any other, and their children are delightfully unfazed by their parents‚Äô sexuality. And it‚Äôs through this subtlety that Cholodenko actually gives us an incredibly profound entry into the canon of gay-themed film. Such authentic examinations of a same-sex family don‚Äôt come around too often, and ‚ÄúThe Kids Are All Right‚Äù has mainstream accessibility to boot. It‚Äôs this accessibility (much more present than in Cholodenko‚Äôs previous efforts‚Äî1998‚Äôs ‚ÄúHigh Art‚Äù and 2002‚Äôs ‚ÄúLaurel Canyon‚Äù) that should allow for the film to have no trouble finding a distributor. Whispers of a major deal came immediately after the credits rolled, and could very well go down today. But wherever ‚ÄúKids‚Äù ends up, audiences should prepare for something truly special: One of the most endearing and genuine cinematic portraits of a contemporary American family, and one that just so happens to be reared by a same-sex couple.