A happily married couple’s relationship comes under threat from a sexy interloper. You’ve seen this film before, haven’t you? The set-up has been a mainstay of the erotic thriller genre from Fatal Attraction to last year’s Obsessed. Refreshingly, the thought-provoking comedy The Kids Are All Right turns this hackneyed movie triangle on its axis.
For a start, the married couple are two women – Annette Bening’s Nic and Julianne Moore’s Jules – and the interloper is the anonymous sperm donor, played by Mark Ruffalo, who fathered the pair’s teenage children two decades earlier.
Ruffalo’s Paul comes on the scene after Nic and Jules’ daughter, Joni, turns 18, the age at which she is legally entitled to contact her biological father. College-bound Joni (named after Joni Mitchell and played by Alice in Wonderland star Mia Wasikowska) is in no rush to find out his identity, but her 15-year-old brother, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), pesters her to track him down through the artificial insemination clinic their moms used.
Dad turns out to be a laidback, motorbike-riding organic gardener and restaurateur and he quickly bonds with the teenagers. When Nic and Jules get to meet him, however, his presence proves disruptive and begins to expose some of the pasted-over cracks in the couple’s relationship…
Very loosely inspired by co-writer and director Lisa Cholodenko’s experience of sperm donation with her partner Wendy Melvoin (ex-member of Prince’s band The Revolution and part of music duo Wendy & Lisa), The Kids Are All Right is witty, touching and humane – and decidedly up to the minute.
Gay and lesbian parenting is a hot-button subject in the US today, but Cholodenko doesn’t make it an issue. The fact that Joni and Laser have two moms isn’t a big deal in the film, which is far more interested in a subject with universal relevance – the difficulty of sustaining a long-term relationship through the stresses and strains of modern life.
Cholodenko (maker of High Art and Laurel Canyon) resists the temptation to turn Nic and Jules into role-model paragons – their flaws are all too real. Nic, a doctor, drinks too much and is a bit too controlling; Jules, a would-be landscape gardener, is restless and unfulfilled.
Moore and Bening, both superb, give Nic and Jules’s relationship a truly lived-in feel. And it’s the very ordinariness of this relationship that is the film’s boldest stroke. In the context of present-day America, it’s quietly radical to show a same-sex couple that anyone can relate to and applaud.
It might be hard for the religious right to swallow, but Nic and Jules have done an excellent job of raising their children – Mom and Mom may be a little screwed-up, but their kids really are all right.
On general release from 29th October.