THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT features a terrific lead performance from Annette Bening and it benefits from an endearing warmth that permeates its running time even when we move into dark subjects.
The premise is incredibly appealing and has all the potential in the world to make for a great indie drama: Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a couple, and they each had a baby through artificial insemination, so that they can jointly call themselves the mothers of Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Once Joni turns 18, though, she and her brother become interested in finding out who their biological father is, so they do just that. Turns out it's the scruffy, laid-back Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who dropped out of college and has made a career out of working at a restaurant. Paul enters the life of the family of four, and as you might expect, much dysfunction ensues.
The first act of THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is wonderful. The awkwardness during the moments in which the title characters meet Paul is handled perfectly, and it gets even more hilarious when he visits their house and the moms finally get to meet him. There's a fantastic conversation during which Nic interrogates Paul about his occupation and aspirations, and later, there's an expertly-executed moment in which Jules nervously talks about her job as a landscaper, with Nic giving skeptical looks the entire time (only one of the examples of how remarkable Bening is throughout the entire film).
One of the things I did start noticing as the film went along, much to my chagrin, is that this is really the kind of movie for which they decided to show too many of the good moments in the trailer. There was one scene featured in the trailer during which Paul tells Laser that he's "glad" he donated his sperm, and I have to admit I was shocked by how EARLY this moment actually happens in the film. I would've thought that it would come much later. But there's an explanation for why it comes early... THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT makes the (perhaps unfortunate) decision to suddenly stop focusing on the relationship between Paul and the two titular characters and instead start focusing on the adulterous affair that starts blooming between Jules and Paul. I didn't mind this TOO much, but it's hard not too think about how much more of a greater film this would've been if the focus had been more on the struggle experienced by Joni and Laser. The scenes in which Jules and Paul secretly have sex are only a little bit interesting because of the whole dynamic with Jules supposedly being a lesbian; if Jules had been cheating on a male character instead of a female one, this whole plot line wouldn't be much more interesting than any other love triangle we've seen on cable TV. In fact, to be honest, the relationship between Jules and Paul is quite difficult to believe. Paul says "I'm falling for you" at a moment during which we certainly don't buy that enough has happened for him to say that. We later get the obligatory contrived moment in which Nic discovers a piece of evidence that unveils the affair. And finally, Paul eventually makes the call to say "Let's just run away with the kids." As much as I appreciate Moore and Ruffalo's performances, they deserved a better script for these scenes.
Fortunately, though, the film does sort of pick up the pieces during its final act, as the focus turns to Joni's departure for college. The final scenes are deeply affecting, and Bening is way on top of her character (I saw MOTHER AND CHILD last week, and as good as she was in that, if she has an Oscar nomination awaiting her this year, it's for this film). The ending is both sad and understated, without being sappy or manipulative. I wish I could say that THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT was as controversial or emotionally searing as it should have been for its entire running time, but I can't quite go that far. In fact, to sum it all up, I think that the last two words of the title are a pretty apt descriptor of the film's overall quality.