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Monday, 13 September 2010

The Kids Are All Right

Nic (Annette Benning) and Jules (Julianne Moore) may not have a perfect relationship, but it works for them – and for their two kids, Joni (Australia’s own Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). But with Joni turning 18 (and about to leave home for university) there’s a worm in the apple: she’s now old enough to find out about (and get in contact with) the man who donated the sperm used to create her and her brother. She’s not that interested but Laser needs to know, so they’re introduced to Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the quasi-hippie owner of a wholefoods restaurant. But as Paul – who is a perfectly decent guy – comes further into their lives, fault lines start to appear in the family’s relationships, especially between the controlling Nic and the self-doubting Jules.

Writer / director Lisa Cholodenko (Laurel Canyon, High Art) does an excellent job of constructing her characters and then just letting them crash into each other. It’s rare to see a film that is able to stand as far back from its characters as this one: it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the touchy-feely personal growth dialogue the adults spout, but there’s still a strong connection with the characters simply as people, no matter what bad or foolish choices they make. Good performances help too (Moore is especially impressive) and its re-creation of upper-middle-class Californian life rings true (and is often very funny). But for the most part this film impresses in the way a well-written novel does: by showing us people we might not like, but who we can understand.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #482)

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