So How Good is The Kids Are All Right?: A Movieline Conversation
Last night, the Movieline gang caught the Sundance press screening of Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, in which the Laurel Canyon writer/director takes another stab at chronicling the lives of the upwardly mobile free-spirits dotting the L.A. landscape. This time around, we're getting to know the Allgoods (nudge, nudge), a family of two lesbian moms -- Annette Bening as a physician and literal pants-wearer, Julianne Moore as a flakier aspiring landscaper -- and their two teenaged kids, conceived back in the '90s using sperm from an anonymous donor. The plot kicks in when son Laser (Josh Hutcherson, who we profiled in The Verge last summer) attempts to find his real dad; he turns out to be Mark Ruffalo, a motorcycle-driving restaurateur living in the area, who just happens to be growing a little weary of his freewheeling bachelor lifestyle. It sounds pat, but Cholodenko's light touch with her actors and skillful ear for the rhythms and thought-patterns of her favored demographic take it all to the next level.
On the next page, Kyle and I discuss our initial reactions to The Kids Are All Right.
Seth: So we've seen The Kids Are All Right. Did Focus get their five million's worth?
Kyle: I think they got it in spades.
Seth: I think so too.
Kyle: It's hard to predict box office so early in the game, but it'll definitely get awards attention for the performances and screenplay. And it's such a crowd pleaser that I would be shocked if it didn't become a small-range hit.
Seth: Yeah there was a definite buzz in the lobby after the screening. And not just an industry buzz, but a genuine, "wow, that made me feel really good" buzz.
Kyle: I talked to one journalist who said, "I wish that was the last movie I was seeing at Sundance so I could leave Park City on a high note." I will say that comedies always do gangbusters at Sundance because they're surrounded by so many grim films, but this is no Hamlet 2.
Seth: I think we can agree that Annette Bening has done some of the best work of her career here. She's playing another offshoot of that high-strung mom trying and failing to keep all her ducks in a row, but this time, she's actually deeply likable.
Kyle: Well the key here is that we think we know each of these characters when we meet them, but they all are allowed deeper layers. So, while Bening has played the high strung mom before, she's rarely allowed to have a scene where she acknowledges that, struggles against it, and overcomes it (only to repeat some of the patterns a few scenes later and recognize that, too).
Seth: Yeah, the screenplay gives all of the actors so much to play.
Kyle: I think part of the reason that it's so much fun to watch is that the actors are clearly having a blast. You can tell that Julianne Moore is like, "Wait, I can have a good time onscreen again? It's been a while!"
Seth: I totally bought these two as a lesbian couple. It's amazing how easily they slid into their butch alteregos.
Kyle: The great thing about Lisa Cholodenko as a writer/director is that she just nails the small character and setting details. You always completely buy these characters because they dress, talk, eat, and fight so specifically.
Seth: Yes they do. I heard someone complaining that she's another director who makes 'white rich people's problems' movies, but she's not just Nancy Meyers in Silver Lake. She's willing to really criticize their lifestyles at the same time she's embracing them.
Kyle: Yes, and I love the scene where Bening has a meltdown because she doesn't want to hear her friends talking about "hemp milk" and whatever they found at Whole Foods anymore. It's not just a little lifestyle detail, it's a mark of how both Bening and Moore have gone down this path together that both of them are itching to break free of.
Seth: And we haven't even talked about Ruffalo yet. I forgot just how devilishly charming that dude can be. This movie is gonna stick a flame under his career.
Kyle: I was going to say, we've really undervalued the key third member of this cast: Mark Ruffalo's ass.
Seth: Yes, his ass should really get billing over Ruffalo himself, if we're just counting screen time.
Kyle: It's kind of like his character from You Can Count On Me (which, let's be honest, is where we all originally fell in love with him) moved to Silver Lake, started working in food service, and had lots of sex
Seth: A nice set of ingredients. So bottom line: For me, The Kids Are All Right is what you wished It's Complicated would be. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kvell. Take your mom.
Kyle: Take your moms!