“The Kids Are All Right” is a smart, cheerful, character-driven relationship comedy.
In other words, it’s a miracle. Imagine: a boldly funny film that doesn’t trade in meet-cutes and laugh-track jokes, but carefully observes five interesting people colliding like bumper cars.
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a well-off suburban Southern California couple on the cusp of middle age. They have nice children, 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska, “Alice in Wonderland”) and her 15-year-old brother, Laser.
Their table talk is about doctor Nic’s medical practice, drifty Jules’ latest stab at finding a vocation (this time as a landscape gardener, maybe), Joni’s preparations for college and Laser’s summertime shenanigans.
Incidentally, Nic and Jules are lesbians. Which brings us to Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the sperm-donor father of both children.
The kids want to bring him into their lives. The “Moms,” as the kids collectively call them, are reluctant, but allow visits. The arrival of this rootless organic farmer/restaurateur disrupts the emotional ecosystem that took years to evolve.
The kids blossom as he encourages their independence in ways two mothers can’t. Hippie-dippy Jules, whose sexual center of gravity is as here-and-there as her career plans, must confront her own confusion about the handsome lug now installed at the dinner table.
Before long she’s helping revive Paul’s shaggy back garden, spending hours in close consultation with her new client – very close consultation.
Director Lisa Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg mold the story with sharp minds and skillful hands. They have created a gallery of living, thinking, feeling originals, observing all with amused affection.
The film’s greatest strength, as the characters travel the rocky road to reconciliation, is that they remain so appealing even as they do deplorable things.