Blu-Ray Review: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore Shine in ‘The Kids Are All Right’

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CHICAGO – Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right” still stands as one of the best films of the year for two reasons. One, Cholodenko’s script brilliantly tackles the challenge of playing emotional subtext instead of mere action, resulting in five completely-realized, believable characters. Two, the film features arguably the best ensemble of the year with two strong contenders for the Best Actress Oscar. Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0

Most movies are about conscious, expressed objectives like saving the world in an action movie, surviving the night in a slasher one, or getting the girl in a romance. Life is not like that. In life, we often do things for reasons we can’t even fully comprehend — subconscious behavior. Finding that kind of multi-faceted motivation in film is incredibly rare with even one character much less all five, but that’s exactly what writer/director Lisa Cholodenko has done with her excellent “The Kids Are All Right.” Whether or not you see the film as a portrait of the new family or not is less important than the fact that Cholodenko has accomplished something increasingly rare in modern American cinema — characters who feel genuine and three-dimensional.

The Kids Are All Right was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 16th, 2010
The Kids Are All Right was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 16th, 2010
Photo credit: Universal

Laser (Josh Hutcherson) needs not a typical father role model as much as he does a friend. He hangs out with a total moron, the kind of d-bag who thinks it’s funny to piss on a stray dog. It’s never stated but I believe his realization that his friend is kind of a dick is one of the reasons he pressures older sister Joni (Mia Wasikowska) to find their birth father, something she can do now that she’s eighteen.

The Kids Are All Right was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 16th, 2010
The Kids Are All Right was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 16th, 2010
Photo credit: Universal

Joni is concerned that finding their birth father will upset their lesbian parents — Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) — but she eventually relents and the two kids cross paths with Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an earthy restaurant owner with commitment issues. Where “The Kids Are All Right” goes from here is unpredictable and unexpected (and somewhat understandably controversial) but it feels completely genuine. With parts tailor made for Bening and Moore, Cholodenko has written an ensemble piece with five distinct arcs – a feat that’s much harder to pull off than it looks.

“The Kids Are All Right” is at turns funny, dramatic, and heartbreaking but it’s nothing without several of the year’s best performances. Bening does arguably her career-best work. Watch a scene late in the film that includes a dinner, a Joni Mitchell song, and a revelation and marvel at a master actress doing some of her most believable work. Like so many people, Nic has started to take her partner for granted and she pays a price for that but Bening brilliantly refuses to turn the character into a villain or victim, recognizing that reality is somewhere in the middle.

Bening is matched by the great Moore, perfectly shading Jules with genuine self-doubt. Some have had issues with Jules’ decisions in the film but they’re perfectly set up by the first act in which it becomes clear, through a discussion of gay porn of all things, that Jules is looking for an outward expression of, well, stimulation. It’s not that she needs someone else or another gender but she needs an undeniable display of appreciation if you will. She’s drawn to Paul because Nic hasn’t supported her. Her latest venture is trying a landscaping business and Nic laughs it off the way too many husbands laugh off their wives’ “pet projects.”

Ruffalo does some of his best work as well and the kids, Wasikowska and Hutcherson, are perfect. Some have read the ending of the film in a way that I believe de-values what Cholodenko is trying to say. Part of the point of the film is that when the shit hits the fan, Jules has a family to fall back on while Paul does not. It’s clear through an early subplot that Paul has women in his life but wants to live commitment-free. That decision has consequences and making that clear is not anti-male as much as it is realistic. It’s not judgmental; it’s just the way it is.

Films this funny, heartfelt, and genuine are rare. As awards season picks up steam and this film is mentioned repeatedly, you may wonder what the buzz is about. Check out the Blu-ray or DVD and find out for yourself.

Special Features:
o “The Journey to Forming a Family”
o “The Making of The Kids Are All Right”
o “The Writer’s Process”
o Feature Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Lisa Cholodenko

‘The Kids Are All Right’ stars Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Hutcherson, and Mia Wasikowska. It was written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko. It is rated R and runs 107 minutes. It was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 16th, 2010. content director Brian Tallerico

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