Lisa Cholodenko's first film since 2002's Laurel Canyon is a sunny Southern California family dramedy about the trails and tribulations of marriage and parenthood that just happens to be about a homosexual couple and their two artificially inseminated teenage children.
Co-written by Cholodenko herself along with Stuart Blumberg, the film rides its stunning ensemble cast, deftly mixing moments of awkward familial hilarity and sexual exploration with later passages of genuine emotional catharsis - although in this regard, it doesn't quite work as well as it should.
Annette Bening and Juliane Moore shine as Nic and Jules, the lesbian couple who, through the same anonymous sperm donor, have raised two children - the 18-year old virginal Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and the 15 year-old wannabe punk athlete Laser (Josh Hutcherson). The kids are interested in finding their biological father, the moms? Not so much.
Hilarity ensues when Paul, a hippie organic food-grower and family-less restaurateur played by Mark Ruffalo is contacted, consented and then introduced at first to his two children and inevitably to their two mothers.
The introduction goes well at first, but eventually Paul's presence tends to have a negative impact on the family he has grown to care about, which is where the emotional resonance and tough-luck family friction kicks in in the final act.
The Kids Are All Right doesn't directly make any speeches or commentaries on the values or political correctness of its same-sex subjects, (in fact, the closest it gets is with its title) and the result is something that is both refreshingly stealthy in its "liberal viewpoint" and yet a tad stale in its familiar family portrait.
Bening and Moore are simply wonderful on-screen together and after Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland failed to leave much of an impression, the young Mia Wasikowska is a standout as Joni, a recent High School graduate stuck between the family she has and the family she never had.
It's Mark Ruffalo, however, who steals the film as a newly-discovered father, a lonely straggler and finally a willing and sympathetic witness to domestic life, which makes me wonder why Cholodenko clearly didn't have much use for him in the end. It's either a deflating omission on the part of the filmmakers or a credit to Ruffalo that we like him enough to wish that he could hang around. [B-]