THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT By Gary Murray Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg Directed by Lisa Cholodenko Running time 106 min MPAA Rating R Lisa Cholodenko created both High Art and Laurel Canyon, both films that carry a heavy independent street cred and were praised by many critics when the end of the year came around. Although they were seen by few patrons, they generated a lot of press. Her latest flick The Kids are All Right takes her career to a different level. Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) are a California suburban lesbian couple with two kids Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Their life is very middle class and very middle of the road. When Joni turns eighteen, she has the right to find out who the sperm donor for her conception was. She doesn't care but Laser does. They find out that the man with the baby butter is Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a local restaurateur and free spirit. The sparks start to fly when the two Moms find out that the two kids have met with Paul and want to keep seeing him. So the Moms invite Paul over for dinner. Paul talks about how his backyard needs landscaping and Jules says that she is interested in doing the job. This leads to a uneasy triangle between Paul and the two recipients of his sperm. It becomes a comic farce as Paul becomes a whirlwind into the lives of this intact family, causing questions from every member. The leads in this film are the reason it works. Julianne Moore is the flighty 'woman' in the couple while Annette Bening is our female 'man' The broad stereotypes do not do justice to the performances as each finds more than the shorthand thumbnail sketch to the character. They are living, breathing individuals with both a history and depth. The struggles of a couple when another enters the picture are the same no matter what the sex. These are two gifted actresses at the apex of their craft. The biggest surprise comes from Mark Ruffalo. He plays the role of the spoiler throwing a wrench into the family. He's not a bad guy, just a confused one. Finding out that his sperm has produced two very different and very special kids gives him both a source of pride and a source of sorrow. The sorrow comes from not being a part of the family he created even if on a tacit scale. The kids do a stand-up job going scene for scene with such a powerhouse cast. Josh Hutcherson comes across as the most vulnerable, living in a world of women and craving a father figure. He brings such an honest touch to what could have been a static role. Director Lisa Cholodenko plays to her strengths, a cast of Oscar caliber thespians and letting them run with the material while not letting them run away with the performances. She finds a strong balance between comedy and tragedy while never losing either rein to melodrama. The film is more like Guess Who is Coming to Dinner? but with a stronger comic bend. It is an issue flick, taking on gay parenting. It is a different kind of film and will probably be remembered come end of the year balloting.

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