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The Kids Are Alright

Lisa Cholodenko seems to be where Noah Baumbach was before he hit a bit of a curmudgeonly crisis. Namely: able to render a cinematic environment you’d be more than happy to live in, with people who are messed-up in extremely appealing, interesting ways (but who believe themselves to be emotionally mangled when really they’re suffering a bit of a blip, soon to be negotiated).

Mind you, trying to evoke pleasant suburban doldrums is surely that much easier when you’re using the kind of locations and visual synonyms Cholodenko favours here: honey-hued orchards, spacious, sun-draped and greenery-swamped houses, commotion-free eateries enjoying early evening warmth. The pace is curbed to meander level, the better for the protagonists to bask in their clement surroundings. You sense that a drama must unfold, if only to stir the pulse.

And it does: lesbian couple Annette Bening and Julianne Moore have it pretty good, ostensibly. They have nice kids, a seemingly happy home, and a heavy suggestion of affluent ease, so bring on the misery already. They’re all of them likeable; Bening seems a little square, Moore a little too freewheeling, and the kids are suitably enamoured with them and well-adjusted.

Enter sperm-donor Mark Ruffalo, the unlikely and unwitting emissary of their soon-to-be temporary meltdown. The kids’ curiosity puts them in touch with his carefree, lethargically philandering restaurateur and things go awkwardly well, for a while. Cue easily forecast relationship ruptures and embattled strife, and a relatively happy finale.

Ruffalo is on top form here, in a role that can’t be that much of a stretch. So are Moore and, in particular, Bening, whose performance is a reminder of all the films that, sadly, she hasn’t been in for seemingly eons. The kids, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson, are disarmingly good, and Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg’s script cleverly assumes authenticity by feeding them believably tentative dialogue, particularly during exchanges with newcomer dad Ruffalo.

The Kids Are Alright is a compelling, funny comedy drama that deals with potentially uncomfortable plot developments convincingly enough and without recourse to glib extrapolations. It may at times strain credulity and likelihood to near snapping-point but contains enough empathetically drawn and believably screwed-up characters to elude your resentment or provoke your disinterest.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Mary Gilbert
    March 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    I agree absolutely. I’m a bit resistant to films about angst ridden middle class Americans ( see Greenburg) or squirrel chewing rednecks for that matter but this one hit the spot beautifully. For me it was a distinct pleasure to have teenagers who were normal and not alienated. The eye rolling at Mom and Mom’s little peccadilllos was charming and thoroughly believable – the Joni Mitchell scene in particular. The film had a real warmth and the performances were terrific.

  2. March 7, 2011 at 9:27 am

    The teenagers in the film were utterly believable, and how often do you get that? You got a sense of their adolescent unease but without the usual annoying discontents or brattish, overdone expositions.

    The film was there to be shot down (many have gleefully emptied both barrels) with it’s milieu and so on, but evaded nearly every single bullet for me. I liked these people, I wanted them to get by as unscathed as they could manage. And the Joni Mitchell scene – the guts of it. I love how many people were annoyed by that scene: I thought it was charming and totally successful! And I’ve seen a few similar scenes that had me hiding behind hands.

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