The Kids Are All Right

a film by Lisa Cholodenko

Having just gushed these very same accolades upon the actress after seeing Mother & Child just mere months ago, you are probably as tired of hearing me say this by now as I am of writing it, but here goes - Annette Bening is very likely the greatest American actress working today. Sorry Meryl, but it seems to be the truth. Seriously, one could never tire of watching Bening ply her craft so powerfully, yet so effortlessly as to make us forget she is even acting at all - and it is no different (and perhaps even more so) in her latest film, The Kids Are All Right.

After such disparate (and effortless seeming) roles as a sexy young con woman in The Grifters, a mob-loving starlet in Bugsy, the A-type personality from Hell in American Beauty, the prima donna in Being Julia and last month's grizzled yet tragic figure in Mother & Child, Bening now takes on the role of Nic, lesbian mother and wife on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and never once allows the character to become cliche or the societal stereotype such a character could easily fall prey to (and that the film's writing sometimes falls into). But there I go gushing again.

Lisa Cholodenko's film revolves around the story of a lesbian couple with two children and what happens when the children's (once anonymous) sperm donor enters the picture and tries to be a father figure to the children and perhaps something more to Nic's partner, Jules (played by another of the finest actresses working today, Julianne Moore). Perhaps the film does fall trap to stereotype at times (though never in any of the performances themselves) but on a whole The Kids Are All Right plays with the cards one expects such a film to be dealt and shuffles them about in some very interesting ways. The ending, though to be at least a little expected by any intelligent and progressive viewer, is an almost revelatory anti-climax that smacks of what should be done in every smartly-written film (instead of taking the easy way out). But I will say no more on that as to not spoil it for anyone.

Witty dialogue and deft direction aside, The Kids Are All Right, being the story of family and the oft-times awkward interactions between them, lays its somewhat lofty (though comedic at many turns) weight onto the shoulders of its actors - and they come through as the broad-shouldered heavy lifters one would hope them to (metaphorically) be. Of course Bening is superb (commence a wee bit more gushing please) in what may be her finest and most honest and vulnerable role yet, and Moore is remarkable as always, with her nerdy-sexy way of blending comedy and drama together as if they wore just one mask instead of the two. Mark Ruffalo as Paul, the interloping (but at least partially well-meaning) sperm donor, is also at his smartest and most vulnerable here.

As for the titular all right kids, Mia Wasikowska (of Tim Burton's ill-conceived Alice in Wonderland fame) and Josh Hutcherson (known mainly by the tween crowd from such films as Bridge to Terabithia and Journey to the Center of the Earth) hold more than their own against these other three seasoned actors. Pretty much what I am saying is that The Kids Are All Right, sans a bit of tired cliche now and again, is a finely tuned work of filmmaking from top to bottom and back again. Oh yeah, and it has Annette Bening too (have I mentioned that?). [09/16/10]