During a particularly emotionally charged scene in writer/director Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, the character of Jules, played by Julianne Moore, equates marriage to a marathon, that it's an endeavor resulting in ups and downs, but one worth undertaking. It's a blunt insight, albeit one that isn't particularly revelatory, yet it also underscores exactly how much of the banal domesticity Cholodenko, who co-wrote the film with Stuart Blumberg, gets right. This is an adult film, about adult situations -- and in the literal, not prurient, sense of that phrase.
That Jules and her long-time partner Nic Allgood (Annette Bening) are lesbians who used a sperm donor to have their children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is, incredibly, almost beside the point. While it is the narrative's hook, the unconventional family structure is treated with relative indifference. This is how these characters live and love and relate, the film seems to say; take it or leave it. Thankfully, it's not a set-up for quirky shenanigans, in the mode of overly affected, late-'90s indie filmdom. Instead, viewers are treated to frank, even bold depictions of sex and the unwitting cruelty that loved ones can visit upon one another, without even meaning to do so.
Joni, who has just turned 18 and is bound for college in a matter of weeks, and her younger brother, Laser, have wondered off and on about the identity of their father. It's only after Joni makes a fateful decision to track down Paul (Mark Ruffalo), that her world and that of her family's, is radically altered. It furthers the unconventional aspects, while introducing some troubling emotional undercurrents that pull at the fabric of stability. Paul, a man whose motives aren't always entirely altruistic, inserts himself into a situation, eliciting some surprising reactions from the Allgood clan.
But for all the potent scenes shared by the formidable trio of Bening, Moore and Ruffalo -- and, to a lesser extent, Wasikowska and Hutcherson -- The Kids Are All Right, which unfolds so leisurely and confidently, has nowhere to go once the denouement arrives. It makes for a disappointing conclusion, as the film effectively goes through the motions and peters out. I'm unsure how the filmmakers might've structured things differently, as the story goes where it must, but there's a sense of deflation in the final 10 minutes that's hard to shake.
Still, it's not hard to see why audiences flocked to the film earlier this year. The Kids Are All Right is intelligent, sensitive cinema that rewards patience (for the most part) and offers up several terrific performances, chief among those Moore's turn as the free-spirited Jules. Although the climax saps some of the film's gusto, it's still a worthy effort and one that will likely enjoy even greater popularity on DVD.
The Kids Are All Right arrives on DVD with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The sun-drenched California suburbs, shot with a casual beauty by cinematographer Igor Jacque-Lillo, look immaculate, with vivid colors and inky blacks. Sharpness and detail are both excellent and, overall, spotless, befitting a recently filmed production. Nothing to complain about here.
The English, Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is immersive and robust, albeit dialogue-heavy. Everything's heard clearly, free from distortion or drop-out; the pop songs sprinkled throughout the film -- like Vampire Weekend's "Cousins," which hums along beneath the opening credits -- have nice presence without becoming bombastic. Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are on board. Optional English, Spanish and French subtitles are also included.
Cholodenko contributes a commentary track, during which she leads viewers on "a guided meditation on free-form impressions of what's going on here" (whatever that means). That's simply a high-minded way of saying Cholodenko spends the film discussing how the script and cast came together, as well as some of the real-life echoes Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg worked into the screenplay. The four minute, 37 second featurette "The Journey to Forming a Family" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) explores Cholodenko's own five-year odyssey to create the film, spurred by her own desire to settle down. The more standard making-of featurette runs three minutes, 10 seconds (presented in anamorphic widescreen) focuses on the nuts and bolts of filming. The two minute, 30 second featurette "The Writer's Process" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) goes into more detail about Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg's work on the screenplay.
it's not hard to see why audiences flocked to writer-director Lisa Cholodenko's film earlier this year. The Kids Are All Right is intelligent, sensitive cinema that rewards patience (for the most part) and offers up several terrific performances, chief among those Julianne Moore's turn as the free-spirited Jules. Although the climax saps some of the film's gusto, it's still a worthy effort and one that will likely enjoy even greater popularity on DVD. Recommended.