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The Kids Are All Right DVD Review

The Kids Are All Right movie poster The Kids Are All Right

Theatrical Release: July 9, 2010 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: Lisa Cholodenko / Writers: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg

Cast: Julianne Moore (Jules Allgood), Annette Bening (Nic Allgood), Mark Ruffalo (Paul Hatfield), Mia Wasikowska (Joni Allgood), Josh Hutcherson (Laser Allgood), Yaya DaCosta (Tanya), Kunal Sharma (Jai), Eddie Hassell (Clay), Zosia Mamet (Sasha), Joaquin Garrido (Luis), Rebecca Lawrence (Brooke)

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Over the past seven years, the Academy Awards race has often included one major contender of the quirky independent comedy variety. These films have all come from mini-major studios Fox Searchlight and Focus Features. None have won Best Picture but each has picked up a nomination and won a screenplay Oscar as well. The class includes Lost in Translation, Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, and Juno. Last year's obvious candidate ((500) Days of Summer) was surprisingly overlooked in a field of ten. Two and a half months before nominations are next announced, the consensus seems to be that The Kids Are All Right will be 2010's quirky indie comedy entry. It fits the bill squarely, being an acclaimed, original, offbeat Focus film. And like those that have come before it, it is also expected to pick up some actor recognition.

Multiple-time Academy Award-nominated actresses Annette Bening and Julianne Moore may have their best shot at Oscar gold as longtime lesbian partners Nic and Jules. Goateed restaurateur Paul (Mark Ruffalo) is excited to be reached out to by two teenagers birthed by his sperm donation.

The Kids Are All Right centers on an American family of four that is typical in most ways, except that both parents are women. Lesbian women, in fact.
The uptight Nic (Annette Bening) and impulsive Jules (Julianne Moore) have been together since college. They're loving towards each other and towards their two teenaged children, Joni (Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska) and the inexplicably-named Laser (Josh Hutcherson).

The title, a modified spelling of a song by and documentary on The Who, isn't ironic; both kids are generally fine, albeit each under the questionable influence of a friend. They do, however, have questions. Laser wants to know who is his Daddy and what does he do. He asks his college-bound sister to find out, something she can do as an 18-year-old. The cryobank clears it with the sperm donor and contact is made. The donor is Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a charming, easygoing organic farmer/restaurateur. The kids meet him in secret, knowing their moms might feel bad about their curiosity.

The secret isn't held long, though, and Nic and Jules decide to have Paul over for dinner. Nic tries heavy questioning and loaded wording to reveal his shortcomings, but Paul makes it through the grilling unscathed. He even becomes the first client of Jules' new, not quite realized gardening/landscaping business. That arrangement leads to a multi-orientation love triangle that can't help but have major consequences for everyone when news of it gets out.

Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) have a talk with their two moms. Taking Paul (Mark Ruffalo) as her first landscaping client introduces Jules (Julianne Moore) to complicated new feelings.

First and foremost, Kids is a comedy and a very funny one at that. Comedy is a tricky art and the dearth of modern ones that play to adults and can merit serious praise and discussion illustrates that it's much easier and more commercially viable to just aim at a narrow audience, typically teens and young adults. Kids takes subject matter that a significant percentage of the world's population is still uncomfortable with -- homosexuality and families reared by it -- and finds a lot of humor in it.
It doesn't take a broad approach or try to breed understanding between gays and straights. It doesn't even pay all that much attention to the couple's orientation. But the film takes a situation that is distinct to modern society and mines the two-mom, two-teen premise for its rich comic awkwardness.

All of the film's elements neatly align, amusing you to a grin that doesn't leave until the introspective final act. "Independent comedy" implies a dramedy and, in that regard, Kids is no different from the four decorated examples from last decade that I opened with. Balancing comedy and drama requires characters that are thoughtfully established and emotionally investable. Every one of the five leads fulfills those requisites, making it effortless to both laugh and empathize. Like the most human and discussable movies, this one presents characters with numerous flaws and facets, so that when events transpire, you are able to notice and appreciate different angles. Though opened for laughs, the film makes its central affair have real and dangerous effects for all. But you're also able to see the connection as more than an egregious lapse in judgment. There are enough sympathetic (and unsympathetic) qualities to experience a wide range of emotions with which to process and evaluate.

The movie has all these layers to consider, but it functions in a straightforward way; human, witty, and accessible. While you're being relentlessly entertained, you're also exploring palpable different parts of the human experience: fear of commitment, reticence, self-doubt, preoccupation, middle-aged malaise. In our cynical postmodern world, tackling such issues head-on is unacceptable. It's just not tactful or satisfying. This film, the fourth feature directed by Lisa Cholodenko (Laurel Canyon), is both of those things. There is never a feel of manipulation or exaggeration. Cholodenko's script, written with Stuart Blumberg (Keeping the Faith, The Girl Next Door), is smart, savvy, and sharp. At this point, only an unprecedented whirlwind of year-end creativity could prevent it from getting an Original Screenplay Oscar nomination. A Best Picture nomination also seems rather probable with ten films in play.

As a rare mix of strong character and performance, the cast will likely be recognized as well. Wasikowska and Hutcherson are young, so they won't get nominated, but their work here and elsewhere should keep the desirable job offers coming. The three older leads, however, have significant bodies of work and no prior wins, making them somewhat ideal for Academy attention that factors in entire careers. Moore has four previous actress nominations to her name, two for leading and two for supporting. Bening has one supporting and two leading, including a sweep-blocking loss on American Beauty that is remembered as a somewhat stinging slight. Ruffalo has yet to receive an Oscar nomination, but in the ten years that he's been on the industry's radar (starting with You Can Count on Me), he's built real credibility in some really good movies. This year he has two potential Best Picture nominees, the other being Shutter Island. He's great in both films and the performances are not interchangeable the way that, say, Leonardo DiCaprio's two leads are. But I suspect Ruffalo will probably get overlooked in both, since the supporting acting categories tend to favor flashy and villainous performances over his signature understatement.

These two moms (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) both want hugs that their teenaged son Laser isn't willing to give them.

Not just a critical darling, The Kids also proved to be all right with moviegoers. To date, the film has grossed almost $21 million domestically, which may not sound like much, but is more than respectable for a $4 million movie that played in less than 1,000 theaters. It is one of this year's few indie box office success stories.

Keeping the movie fresh in mind for Best of 2010 lists and award season chatter, Universal brings The Kids Are All Right to DVD and Blu-ray on November 16th. For those who appreciate an obscure and unlikely collecting challenge, know that this is the seventh film admitted into Focus Features' Four-Star Collection, following Brokeback Mountain, Atonement, Milk, Sin Nombre, Away We Go, and A Serious Man.

The Kids Are All Right DVD cover art -- click to buy DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Not Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled
Release Date: November 16, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($39.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The film looks more than all right in the DVD's terrific 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. I spotted some rare grain and minor artifacting, the latter of which may be a DVD-exclusive. Nevertheless, the picture's generally unremarkable visuals remain sharp, clean, and pleasing throughout. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn't much of a force, but it provides dialogue, atmosphere, and songs crisply and effectively. One standout scene particularly impresses for its unique audio effect.

In addition to the seconds afforded her in the three short promotional shorts, the DVD lets director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko speak over the entirety of her fourth feature film. It looks like Focus Features already has excerpts ready for the original screenplay part of the Academy Awards ceremony.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Despite the disc's special moniker, the movie receives a fairly standard Universal DVD extras slate of three short featurettes and a commentary.

"The Journey to Forming a Family" (4:34) gathers comments on the film's familial themes and why they are important to director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko.
No standard featurette, "The Making of The Kids Are All Right" (3:08) is an extended trailer with some actor comments edited in. It almost makes up for the trailer itself being absent. "The Writer's Process" (2:28) keeps Madness' "Our House" coming as Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg talk about their collaborative process and the chance encounter from which it was born.

Last but not least is an audio commentary by Lisa Cholodenko. A compelling speaker, she has no trouble sustaining the track on her own. She covers the spontaneous and belabored decisions that shaped the film during the quick, low-budget production that followed her and Blumberg's long writing process. Among the most noteworthy remarks are stories about filming conditions and having to give in to MPAA demands. The track no doubt might have from adding Cholodenko's co-writer and actors, but it is quite (forgive the third and final pun) all right as is.

The DVD opens with a Focus Features promo, a trailer for Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, a promo discussing all those dang home video formats available these days, and video promos for Charlie St. Cloud and Despicable Me.

Nearly all of the static menus loop the same short piece of score.

The lone insert inside the black keepcase promotes a Focus Features sweepstakes.

Right on! Lesbian-loving, motorcycle-riding Paul (Mark Ruffalo) meets the two mothers (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore) his seed impregnated in the early 1990s.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If this year's Academy Award nominations come in as the early predictions see it, I'll be unusually content with the selections. That's my way of saying that The Kids Are All Right ranks up there as one of the more enjoyable 2010 films I've seen so far. It's entertaining, substantive, and with a head on its shoulders. That said, there is a good chance you'll dislike the movie... if you go into it wanting to, if you decide it's politically or ideologically motivated against your views, and if you have no/low tolerance for sex and profanity.

The DVD is slight in the extras department, but the commentary satisfies and the film and feature presentation both earn unreserved recommendations.

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The Kids Are All Right Songs List (in order of use): Vampire Weekend - "Cousins", Leon Russell - "Out in the Woods", Tom Hirschmann - "Tailgating", Tame Impala - "Sundown Syndrome", David Bowie - "Panic in Detroit", David Bowie - "Win", Deerhoof - "Milk Man", Trespeso - "A Matar En La Disco", Quadron - "Slippin", Tom Hirschmann - "Red Handed", David Bowie - "Black Country Rock", Deerhoof - "Blue Cash", X - "The New World", Uh Huh Her - "Same High", Fever Ray - "When I Grow Up (D Lissvik Remix)", Ge-ology featuring Yukimi Nagano - "Blues Alley", Gabor Szabo - "Galatea's Guitar", Little Dragon - "Fortune", Betty Wright - "Good Lovin'", Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo - "All I Want", CSS - "Knife", MGMT - "The Youth"

The Kids Are All Right: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack:
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Reviewed November 7, 2010.



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