I'm going to begin my review immediately by stating that I hated how "The Kids Are All Right" ended. I enjoyed the film, but I hate the ending. After thinking about this for a couple days, I have decided I am steadfast on my belief. I understand that screenwriter and director Lisa Cholodenko would never have taken the path I believed to be the better ending, but I really am against her decision to keep main characters Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) together. Jules would have been far better off with Paul (Mark Ruffalo) and I'm going to hold my ground that Nic was a very angry woman who was far too bitchy and commanding for the easy going Jules to ever be truly happy with.
I understand that "The Kids Are All Right" is about two lesbian women who have had a very long and loving relationship. I truly understand the ramifications of splitting up their family of two children that were conceived by sperm donations from Paul. This all makes perfect sense and the safe bet was for Jules and Nic to stay together. I also understand that Nic was probably not always the combative bitch that she appeared to be in the film and that Jules is also probably a little too flighty in her demeanor to succeed in a relationship without having somebody like Nic around. However, my understanding of Nic is based on the 104 minutes of film time provided by Cholodenko and I really can't see how Jules could stand to be around Nic. Even their daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) could hardly stand to be around her biological mother.
From the moment the film began, there is uneasiness between Nic and Jules and their children Joni and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). You can almost cut the tension with a knife and it Nic is immediately critical of everything that her family does. She is commandeering and certainly the alpha female in the relationship. Nic is a doctor and Jules is trying to build a landscaping career, but she is essentially a stay at home mother. While it is readily apparent that Jules and Nic love each other, they no longer seem to be together and each views the raising of the children differently as each tends to view their biological child slightly different than the others. They are the "moms," but Jules was Laser to be more like her and Nic demands that Joni is always together and studios.
Joni is the older of the two, but they are from the same sperm donor. I like this, as it does tie the two children together as being blood siblings. The two are very happy with the "moms," but Laser is very curious to meet his father and he persuades Joni into contacting their biological father via the sperm bank. Paul is taken by surprise at discovering he has two children and the restaurateur and organic farmer is excited to meet Joni and Laser. The meeting goes very well and each finds something they like about their father and Paul seems drawn to his two biological children. After some time, Jules and Nic learn that their children met with Paul and they soon demand to have him over to the house to meet him, before the children may be permitted to spend more time with Paul.
The fun starts when Paul starts to become a ‘member' of the family and Joni and Laser enjoy their time with him very much. He understands them more and is able to provide an outlook on friendship, studies and life that they did not get from their "moms." Jules begins to do landscaping work for Paul and it isn't long before Jules finds she has an attraction to Paul. After an awkward kiss, Jules and Paul become lovers. She hasn't been happy with Nic for quite some time and Paul is very supportive of her, whereas Nic is critical. Paul becomes enamored with his instant family and does have true affections for his kids and Jules, although he may be misguided. When Nic discovers the affair, the two become estranged. However, Jules decides that she loves Nic and doesn't want to lose her partner.
Lisa Cholodenko has put together a very good story. She, along with her partner and former Prince collaborator Wendy Melvoin, has conceived a child through a sperm donor. Cholodenko may one day face a similar situation where she her son Calder may want to meet his sperm donating father. This film is a story that is personal for Cholodenko and as a successful lesbian woman, I can imagine that she is the more ‘organized' of her and her musician partner. With the writer/director's background, I knew from the start that Jules and Paul were doomed, but I simply cannot move beyond not liking the Nic character and feeling that her strictness and bitchyness were damaging to Jules and the rest of the family. Perhaps this is due to some underlying issues I have with a character that reminds me heavily of how my own mother was.
"The Kids are All Right" is an engaging story and it is more a story of the difficulties of maintaining a healthy long-term relationship and the trials and tribulations of being a parent in today's world than it is a story about two lesbian parents of teenage children. Nic could have easily been Nicolas cage and the story told by Cholodenko would have still fit perfectly well. "The Kids are All Right" is a very truthful look at how so many relationships in today's world go awry from becoming stale and when two lovers stop appreciating one another and start to feel ‘caged in.' One wonders after watching this film if Cholodenko lived in a household where this happened.
Perhaps my anger towards Nic does deserve some commendation to the wonderful actress Annette Bening for her great performance. Julianne Moore is one of my favorite actresses, but it was Bening who brought her "A" game to this film. Perhaps that I've seen Moore play a similar personality in previous films is part of the reason I felt she was not on equal ground with Bening. This is not saying that Moore is bad in "The Kids are All Right." Quite opposite; she is fantastic. I just feel that Bening puts forth a powerful and emotional performance that has long been her staple and the actress has been often ignored during her long and consistent career.
I've come to enjoy Mark Ruffalo as a leading man and he is good as the man desperately seeking a family and the two younger actors are good as teenagers in a non-standard family that isn't quite as happy as they should be. Ruffalo is asked to be a Bohemian everyman and runs with it nicely. Both Mia Waskiowska and Josh Hutcherson are relatively new to acting, but I enjoyed them in the film. Ruffalo hasn't been given too many high profile leading roles and pops up every once in a while in films such as "Rumor Has It" and "Just Like Heaven." I'm looking forward to seeing how the forty-three year old does as Bruce Banner in the upcoming "The Avengers" film. He is finally getting the attention he deserves.
Yes, I would rather have had Paul and Jules end up together. I really liked both of the characters and while they were both flawed, they seemed to genuinely make each other happy. The argument could be made that Paul was being egotistic and putting his own needs in front of everyone, but he was a successful person and was a good influence on the kids. I didn't enjoy Nic's drinking problems and bitchiness and Bening's performance was good enough that I did not like her character at all. They speaks volumes to the performances and this good film is enjoyable. Cholodenko brings a personal story to the big screen and a lot is revealed in her commentary that shows just how personal this film is. It is a very good story about family and the trials and tribulations of family and marriage. My fairy tale ending was just that and not the realistic ending presented by its filmmakers.
"The Kids Are All Right" is presented in decent looking 1.85:1 widescreen video. Colors and detail are all both pretty good. Detail won't challenge a big budget blockbuster and is not a tremendous improvement over DVD in terms of clarity, but it is very clean looking. Colors are muted to a minor degree that gives "The Kids Are All Right" a Seventies-like appeal that also captures the California sun. Granted, the film takes place in present time, but it gives the movie a film like appeal that feels natural. Where the transfer really excels is how solid and clean looking the release is. The film is flawless with no issues relating to either the digital transfer or the source materials.
Audio won't impress anyone either, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is not going to disappoint anyone either. Low budget comedies and dramas aren't typically a technological showcase and this is a fine example. The score by Carter Burwell and the licensed musical selections both sound very good and dialogue is clean, but I didn't feel the sound of Paul's motorcycle was as deep as it should have been in throat and when there isn't any music playing, the mix is primarily isolated to the center channel with some imaging to the left and right. The mix is technically solid, but barely uses the 5.1 high definition audio.
Universal touts a number of "Blu-ray Exclusives" for this release and includes a few nice bonus items. The Blu-ray items are the typical Universal inclusions and this includes Pocket Blu connectivity for smartphones such as the iPhone and access to the BD-Live Center for promotional clips, trailers and videos. The Feature Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Lisa Cholodenko is affable enough and Cholodenko provides personal insight into the film. She's an intelligent woman and that is apparent. The Journey to Forming a Family (4:35) has Cholodenko talking about her own needs to create a family ‘unit' and the genesis for this film becomes quickly apparent. The Making of The Kids Are All Right (3:09) is a brief promotional making-of clip that doesn't provide too much of anything other than promoting the movie. The Writer's Process (2:27) is another quick chat with Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg as they talk about meeting and experiences. It was short, but good.
Lisa Cholodenko is the writer and director of "The Kids Are All Right" and everything about the film is from her personal touch. The material was close to her heart and she delivers a very good drama with strong performances and enough laughs and dramatic moments to balance out. I disagreed with the ending, but in all reality, the ending given by the filmmaker was the right ending. The Blu-ray release is technically sound, but far from impressive. A good upconvert player would nearly bring the DVD to the same level of quality as the Blu-ray. The special features are very short, though moments with Cholodenko are good. Her commentary is worth a listen. I feel the film is worth checking out, but this is one title where the lower priced DVD may be the better choice for those who don't have this film high up on their must-have list.