A family headed by two lesbian moms is turned upside down when they are introduced to the man whose sperm donation many years earlier sired their children. The comedy-drama released by Focus Features was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
By CBS News.com producer David Morgan
We are introduced to a family in a comfortable California suburb - atypical as it consists of two mothers and a pair of teenage children, but familiar in most other respects. The boy is moody, private and prone to sarcastic remarks. The girl is outgoing but easily embarrassed by her parents. And the two women sustain an uneasy power balance within the family dynamic.
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) exhibit some familiar traits of the typical "old married couple" who are comfortable and intimate but also bristle with old slights. Jules harbors resentment over giving up a career to raise kids, while Nic, a doctor, expresses anger over her partner's "micromanagement," especially when it comes to her imbibing alcohol.
At the urging of her younger brother, who craves information about his "father" - indelicately, the guy who contributed to their moms' artificial insemination procedures - Joni (Mia Wasikowska) contacts the sperm bank that her parents patronized, to uncover the mystery of the sperm donor.
Her first phone conversation with Paul (Mark Ruffalo) is predictably awkward for both. But they agree to meet.
Paul, who runs a restaurant tellingly called WYSIWYG (as in, What You See Is What You get), lives a carefree life, including sharing sleepovers with restaurant employee Tanya (Yaya DaCosta). Paul had long forgotten his donations to the sperm bank almost two decades before, but is curious about meeting his progeny.
Joni and her brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) meet at Paul's restaurant and are by turns intrigued and underwhelmed - not sure what to expect or even ask of the man whose only connection was through artificial insemination.
At least Paul tries, curious about what his offspring might have in common with him. He and Laser do not seem to share much, and Paul's put-down comments about team sports make Laser - a proud athlete - bristle. But Joni is fascinated by Paul's organic farming initiative, and later tells Laser she thinks Paul is "cool and interesting."
Aghast that their children would seek out their sperm donor behind their backs - and afraid their new relationship with Paul might lead to "time-sharing" their kids - Nic and Jules decide to invite him over and "just kill him with kindness," hoping that will put the matter to bed. But it takes much for Nic to stifle her take on him as an "interloper."
Though Nic is inwardly judgmental of Paul's motorcycle and his dismissive comments about college education ("But that's just me. I'm
weird that way"), their meeting is gregarious, as the couple tells their meet-cute story, to the embarrassment of their kids who've been subjected to it 1,000 times.
The get-together results in Paul becoming the first client of Jules' budding landscape business. As Jules begins working on Paul's property, she is fascinated by Paul, and admits to him, "I just keep seeing my kids in your expressions."
It doesn't take long for intimacy and an unexpected kiss to turn from freak-out to passionate abandon.
Meanwhile, Paul begins to exercise his dad-muscles, shooting hoops with Laser. Perhaps because Paul's not his "parent," Laser begins listening to advice from him that he'd never consider from his moms. Paul also takes Joni for a motorcycle ride, which immediately puts Paul in the doghouse when Nic finds out.
"The plan was to limit his involvement," Nic says to Jules. "I feel like he's taking over my family."
Nic begins to warm to Paul when the entire family goes to his house for dinner, and is on her own best behavior (no alcohol!). She is intrigued that he owns Joni Mitchell records (specifically, "Blue") in his collection, and serenades the group with a rendition of "All I Want":
Do you see, do you see, do you see
how you hu-urt me baby
so I hurt you too
then we both get
She is feeling good, loose. The family's tension is diffused.
But when she discovers evidence of Jules' infidelity, the betrayal reverberates through her. The interloper. The wife. A rejection of her - and her sexuality. The threat to her kids. Fallout from her backing Jules' landscaping business venture. She switches from drinking water to wine.
Hurt even more by Jules' indiscretion and Paul's betrayal is Joni, who feels she has introduced the Interloper into their family and now wants nothing to do with him. Paul, now so close to having a family of his own, is crushed.
From the screenplay by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg:
JULES: Look, it's no big secret your mom and are in hell right now. Bottom line ... marriage is hard... really f------ hard. Just two people, slogging through the s---, year after year, getting older, changing. It's a f------ marathon, okay?! So sometimes you're together so long, you just stop seeing the other person. You just see weird projections of your own junk. And instead of talking to each other, you go off the rails, and act grubby and make stupid choices. Which is what I did. And I feel sick about it because I love you guys and I love your mom and that's the truth. Sometimes you hurt the ones you love the most. I don't know why. Maybe if I read more Russian novels ... "
"The Kids Are All Right" very acutely weaves a story of a family being tested when it is perhaps at its most vulnerable - when kids are grown enough to question or doubt their parents while taking their first tentative steps towards independence, and when spouses must weigh years of commitment and self-sacrifice against their own self-interests. It also shows what happens when good intentions create disharmony and distrust - and the effort needed to restore harmony and win that trust back.
Best Actress Oscar nominee Annette Bening won the Golden Globe for her performance in "The Kids Are All Right." She has previously received three Academy Award nominations - as Best Supporting Actress for 1990's "The Grifters," and as Best Actress for "American Beauty" (1999) and "Being Julia" (2004). Her other credits include "Valmont," "Postcards From the Edge," Regarding Henry," "Bugsy," "Richard III," "Open Range," "Running With Scissors," and "Mother and Child."
After several years on the soap opera "As the World Turns," Julianne Moore appeared in "Benny & Joon" and "The Fugitive" before breaking out in Robert Altman's "Short Cuts." Her acclaimed performance in Todd Haynes' "Safe" was followed by appearances in "The Big Lebowski," "Children of Men," "Hannibal," and "A Single Man." Moore has received four Academy Award nominations - for Best Supporting Actress in "Boogie Nights" (1997) and "The Hours" (2002), and for Best Actress in "The End of the Affair" (1999) and "Far From Heaven" (2002).
Mark Ruffalo's performance in 2000's "You Can Count on Me" opposite Laura Linney was followed by memorable turns in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004), "All the King's Men" (2006), "Zodiac" (2007), "Reservation Road" (2007), "Where the Wild Things Are" (2009), and "Shutter Island" (2010). Ruffalo is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for "The Kids Are All Right."
Mia Wasikowska (who also starred this year as Alice in Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland") appeared in the HBO series "In Treatment." Her other film credits include "Defiance," "That Evening Sun," "Amelia," and the upcoming "Jane Eyre" opposite Michael Fassbender.
Over the past decade, Josh Hutcherson's credits have run the gamut from comedies ("RV," "Kicking & Screaming") to sci-fi ("Zathura: A Space Adventure") to tween romance "Little Romance") to vampires ("Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant"). He will soon be seen in the remake of "Red Dawn."
Director Lisa Cholodenko's first feature, "High Art" (1998), starred Ally Sheedy and Patricia Clarkson, and won her the screenwriting award at the Sundance Film Festival. She followed that with "Laurel Canyon" (2002) and "Cavedweller" (2004). Her many TV credits include "Homicide: Life on the Street," "Six Feet Under," "The L Word," "Push, Nevada," and "Hung."
Cholodenko (who co-wrote the script with fellow Oscar nominee Stuart Blumberg over several years, during which she gave birth to a son) said she was inspired by friends who have been on all sides of the sperm donation equation; Blumberg himself admits he contributed during his college years. But they don't see "Kids" as carrying a message about same-sex unions: "There is maybe some of that old joke - 'Gay people deserve to be as miserable as straight people'" Blumberg said.
"I know some will say, 'Oh, there's an unconventional family, two moms and their kids,'" Cholodenko said. "To me, it looks pretty typical. . . . Whether you're gay or straight or single or interracial or whatever, everybody has a similar trajectory, all families face similar challenges; the emotional rites of passage, the choices made, and whether you stick things out and stay together as a family."