First of all, of course the kids are fine. Kids are resilient, not that having two loving parents has ever been a problem in the history of the world.
But it’s the parents we should be keeping our eyes on. Nic and Jules have been together a long, long time – since Nic (Annette Bening) treated Jules (Julianne Moore) in the ER for a sex injury. And that’s how their coupling goes: Nic is the serious, perhaps even controlling one, while Jules is free-spirited. In their years together, each has given birth using the same unknown sperm donor. Nic gave birth to Joni (Mia Wasikowska), who really takes after her (biological) mother, while Jules gave birth to Laser (Josh Hutcherson), who mostly takes after his. With Joni about to depart for college, Laser talks her in to searching for their biological father, the sperm donor. Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo).
Now, Nic’s and Jules’ relationship has been stale for a while. Jules is in the middle of starting up yet another business (landscape design) and Nic is barely tolerating the effort. But Paul’s arrival is completely destabilizing. Not only is their daughter moving away, they also feel like they’re losing their kids to a new, cool parent who has never had to discipline them or hurt their feelings. When Jules goes to work for Paul, it’s kind of the last straw. No wait: when Jules sleeps with Paul, that’s the very last straw.
Like any marriage,theirs has highs and lows. There are no histrionics; Nic is too staid, too reserved, too in control of her own emotions. Everyone is very, very sorry. So this is not about the drama, this is about who they are now, as people, as a couple. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are such excellent actors that they can convey a 20 year marriage with an ease between the two of them that feels real and also effortless. Bening gets to show real range here, though her character plays things a little close to the chest. Moore is luminous as Jules and seems to really enjoy the freedom of playing someone so open and available.
Director Lisa Cholodenko is excellent at showing you a slice of life and making you feel like you’ve had the whole cake. An exceptional ensemble comes together to give this film emotional resonance. The couple is going through their own unique problems but their struggles of love, commitment, friendship, and family – those are universal. And in The Kids Are All Right, they’re memorably, endearingly executed.