Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh hutcherson
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Writer(s): Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
Cinematography: Igor Jadue-Lillo
Original Score: Carter Burwell, Nathan Larson, Craig Wedren
Running Time: 106 mins.
Every year, amidst the early autumnal melancholy we are presented with a film best described as a “Festival Darling”, that is to say it is adored by critics the world over and what usually follows is the hot-tip towards Oscar success for the under-dog, some live up to this reputation such as Little Miss Sunshine, while others really don’t and are quite simply over-rated, Juno for example. Thankfully I can safely say that this years entry, The Kids Are Alright falls most definitely in the category of the former rather than the latter keeping the quirk to a minimum and veers on the right side of the indie-movie scene.
The plot is typical indie fare, a lesbian couple have two children by the same sperm donor, as said children approach the age allowing them to find out the identity of their donor they meet the guy in question and inevitably bond, to mixed reaction from their “moms”, and what follows is an excellent study of “real” characters we can empathise with as the film both adheres to and breaks expectation is equal (and perfect) measure, this is a film where not a great deal happens yet we could happily spend a life-time observing people this richly written and acted to the point where it is hard to pick out a stand-out amongst the brilliant subtleties and tics.
Special mention has to go to Mark Ruffalo though, he is and always has been a hugely likeable screen presence and if there is any justice this should be the film to get him noticed with his turn as The Hulk in The Avengers really taking his star level into the Hollywood stratosphere beyond simply playing second fiddle to others (albeit the best possible second fiddle anyone could ask for!). He has great range, this we know from this year alone with turns in Shutter Island and The Brothers Bloom, but there is a truthfulness in his role of Paul the titular kid’s sperm donor. It has to be said in the wrong hands his character could have quite easily gone down the generic free-spirit slacker route but the layers of his character pel away like an onion showing emotion beyond mere enigmatic bachelor experiencing a life-changing episode.
On that front though Ruffalo has the easier job, making a likeable guy likeable is not really a stretch which means it is left to Moore and Bening to give us two extremes of personality, personalities that aren’t nearly as likeable on the surface, Bening undoubtedly has the harder job of the two as Nic is controlling, uptight and harsh…on the surface but yet again there is so much going on beneath the surface, and as all the greats can do there is so much conveyed with a single look and a wordless scene than with a thousand words. clichéd maybe but it is this that makes nudges The Kids Are Alright from good to down-right brilliant, with each actor’s performance matching and melding with the others.
Interestingly, and perhaps key to the film’s emotional drive, there is no labouring on the fact that the central couple are gay, they have all the same issues that any other couple would have and I would defy anyone not to be able to empathise with their marital woes whether you’re married or not their issues are universal and touching. It is in this that the film is won, it isn’t often film-makers can cut to the emotional core quite this well transcending the boundaries of entertainment to make a film that is a truly life-affirming 2 hours and will stay with you for a great deal longer whether you be a man, woman, single or married, straight or gay this is a film everyone can enjoy, admire and go away from feeling good despite a truthful and real rather than happy ending wrapped up in a little bow…Hollywood style!
The Kids Are Alright cuts to the core, truthful performances forge some hugely likeable and real characters to craft a moving, hugely enjoyable and (for a change) awards-worthy film.