No serious movie fan in their right mind would pass up the opportunity to see Annette Bening and Julianne Moore playing a lesbian couple, so even before the Sundance Film Festival began it was pretty much a guarantee that their film, The Kids Are All Right, would find a life outside Park City. And now that the film has been picked up by Focus Features for distribution at some point this year, I'm thrilled to tell you you've got a lot to look forward to. Lisa Cholodenko's film is sure-handed, warm and funny, a crowdpleaser that isn't too pleased with itself, despite the presence of organic farmers and smart teenagers and all the other tropes of smug liberal filmmaking that might normally make me cringe.
OK, so it is a little grating at first to see the polished supercouple of Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore), living in a beautifully decorated home in safe suburban Los Angeles, raising two teen kids who are constantly thinking of the needs of "Moms" and doing, as the title suggests, pretty much all right. Joni (Mia Wasikowska, an up-and-comer really proving her talent here) is off to an excellent college in the fall, while Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is hanging with the slightly wrong crowd but is always around for ping-pong games in the backyard with mom.
What Joni and Laser are really wondering, though, is the identity of the sperm donor who helped create them-- and now that Joni is 18, she's allowed to get in touch with him. Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an organic chef but also kind of a misfit, preferring random hookups to real relationships and a "fuck it" attitude to anything remotely resembling conflict. Once Joni and Laser introduce Paul to their moms, everyone is instantly smitten except Nic, who sees Paul as a threat to her already shaky family unit. Freaked out by Joni's imminent departure for college and growing distant from Jules, Nic starts drinking too much and micromanaging her family-- which, of course, only alienates them further.
Bening and Moore are both exactly as great as we've come to expect them to be, though Bening gets a slightly meatier part given all of Nic's conflicting emotions. While it's wonderful seeing them cuddle in bed and try to rekindle their relationship's spark, it's almost more fun to see them bounce off the other actors-- the family unit has an easy, natural chemistry, while Ruffalo's role as a conflict-builder brings out each actresses' excellent sparring abilities. Ruffalo is simultaneously an ideal father figure and a scruffy sex symbol; he might be doing a lot of what we've seen him do before, but he's never been better at it.
A relationship comedy without ambitions toward high drama, The Kids Are All Right does manage a few beautiful emotional moments-- Joni's arrival at college is transfixing-- but mostly serves as warm and intelligent entertainment. Its role in the gay marriage debate may be one of frank acceptance-- hardly anyone seems surprised to see two women raising teenagers together, and both kids have turned out pretty great. But with its progressive bent and perfectly crafted character dynamics, The Kids Are All Right may be the first great relationship comedy of the decade. If we're lucky, it'll set the tone for what's to come.
For more of our Sundance 2010 coverage, click here.