Reading the synopsis of The Kids Are All Right could lead you to presume that its subject matter may in fact be more inflammatory than it actually is. Two children, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) and Joni (Mia Wasikowska), raised by lesbian parents, go in search of their sperm donor father and unearth Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a self-consciously ‘alternative’ organic restaurant owner who, rather than being thrown into personal crisis, embraces his unexpected ‘fatherhood’ with gusto, welcoming the kids into his life without hesitation and with genuine enthusiasm. However, Paul’s sudden emergence threatens to disturb the family dynamic, eliciting the wrath of Nic (Annette Bening) who fears her motherhood is being undermined and her partner Jules’ (Julianne Moore) attentions unduly diverted.
In many other hands, supposedly ‘controversial’ material involving lesbians, sperm donors and infidelity would have had any dramatic potential drained through lazy attempts at cheap melodrama, the type of which sadly characterises many a contemporary Hollywood drama. However, under the direction of Lisa Cholodenko, the film is imbued with an impressive naturalistic sensibility, expertly interweaving comedy and crisis to form what is easily one of this year’s cinematic highlights and was immediately touted for an Oscar nomination after its launch at the Sundance Film Festival.
Annette Bening arguably steals the show with an outstanding performance, her bitter sniping made less offensive (but no less amusing) by a profound love of family and a deep emotional investment in her frequently fractious relationship with Jules (Moore) who dares to sacrifice domestic bliss for the carnal pleasures of leather-clad biker Paul. The narrative may sound contrived but events play out with such conviction and precision no action ever appears false or manipulated. Indeed, the opposite is true: the most awkward and tense scenes are so authentic their plausibility is never brought into question let alone subjected to doubt.
Arriving on screens only a matter of weeks after the triumphs of The Social Network and Easy A, The Kids Are All Right leaves you wishing Hollywood had spread their releases further apart to alleviate the tedium the majority of other titles induce. An unmitigated success, The Kids Are All Right is both essential viewing and thoroughly deserving of the plaudits it has already received. More than alright, it’s brilliant.