Review: 'The Kids Are All Right'

(Four stars)

It's your typical Norman Rockwell family: two parents, two kids (girl, boy), nice suburban house.

But in "The Kids Are All Right," director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko gives the traditional family drama/comedy a decidedly 21st-century spin: The parents are lesbians, and the kids were conceived from an anonymous donor's sperm.

What's refreshing about the movie is that the two-mom family and various interracial relationships are presented without a wink or a blush. That all seems ho-hum enough in our corner of the country, but it may prove eye-opening elsewhere, especially since "The Kids Are All Right," featuring big-name actors (Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, "Alice in Wonderland"'s Mia Wasikowska), is, as they say, a "major motion picture," not a macro-budget art house indie.

Bening plays Nic, a doctor, biological mother of Joni (Wasikowska), a straight-A student about to leave for college. Jules (Moore), biological mom of 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson), has stayed home with the kids and tried a variety of careers, including her latest, landscape design. Laser, who excels at sports, is "exploring": trying drugs, maybe a little gay sex with his unsuitable buddy Clay.

What Laser is really curious about, though, is his biological father, and with Joni's help, he finds him. Paul (Ruffalo), the sperm donor, is a hang-loose restaurateur and organic farmer. How cool is that? Everything about Paul is cool, the kids find, from his motorcycle to the easy way he seems to fit in.

But not so fast. Nic in particular resents Paul's apparent assumption that he's part of the family. For one thing, it turns out he lied in his statements to the sperm bank: He was not studying international relations and in fact never finished college. Will he turn out to be a father, or an interloper?

The film, co-written by Stuart Blomberg, excels in the naturalness and wit of its dialogue and its sympathetic examination of the ambiguities and tensions of sex. How can Joni win the love of her sometimes-boyfriend Jai? Why do Nic and Jules watch male porn videos? And is Jules really gay? In a world where the old certainties seem to be collapsing, what are the new rules?

Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and teen drug and alcohol use. 1 hour, 44 minutes.

— Renata Polt

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