Annette Bening (left) acts rings around Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right.
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT directed by Lisa Cholodenko, written by Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, with Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. 104 minutes. An Alliance release. Opens Friday (July 9). For venues, trailers and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
Those of you aching for movies about lesbian mothers, beware: The Kids Are All Right is not what you're looking for.
This feeble comedy about two children of lesbians who want to meet their sperm donor plays like its producers heard the pitch and said, "No, no, way too soft. Raise the stakes, will ya?"
So everyone's in crisis. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is about to go to college. Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is experimenting with drugs and may like his best boyfriend a lot. Mum number one, Jules (Julianne Moore), is drifting, with few professional plans, and mum number two, Nic (Annette Bening), wants Jules to get her shit together. She also dreads the fact that one of her kids is leaving the nest.
Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo), successful entrepreneur and all-around hound, who surprises himself by being drawn to the children he spawned for money and from a distance.
This story has a decent starting point - sperm donor finds his soul when he meets the kids - but writer/director Lisa Cholodenko (who should know better, having given us High Art and Laurel Canyon) won't settle for that. It's not enough that the kids think Paul is cooler than their mums. Suddenly, Paul hires nascent landscaper Jules to work his garden, and there's a palpable attraction and.... Stop right there. You've got to be kidding.
Am I a little too close to the material - being a lesbian mother with a college-age daughter and all? I don't think so. I might accept this narrative if it were about younger lesbians who didn't go through the same struggle as those of us who had children over 20 years ago. But long-time lesbian mothers who went through hell and high water to have kids? Hot for the donor? Not likely.
Cholodenko could learn a thing or two from the makers of the recently released Cyrus, who worked with a similarly fraught situation. Instead of donor-meets-the-kids, Cyrus has a divorced lonely guy who meets a great woman who's too close to her adult live-in son.
Where The Kids Are All Right gets hysterical - and not in a funny way - developing dumb, unbelievable plot devices and pressing for cheap laughs, Cyrus stays focused on its characters' emotional truths. The dialogue is realistic and the passion palpable.
To give this film some credit, Bening is terrific as the too busy doctor mum and, I gotta say, is pretty hot as a dyke. Here and in Rodrigo García's Mother And Child, she's doing some of her best work ever.
Moore's needy act, on the other hand, especially after her turn as the desperately jealous wife in Chloe, is getting stale. And this is the third film in two years - see Chloe and The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee - in which she does the girl-on-girl thing. Time to move on.
Ruffalo deploys the same slacker charm he's been laying on since You Can Count On Me. He could use a change of pace, too.