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The Kids Are All Right review

Annette Bening should start looking for a new frock – by rights, she will be pulling her best ‘humble’ face come award season.

She’s the lynchpin of Lisa Cholodenko’s funny, moving and insightful study of bittersweet family dynamics, which shines with a truthfulness that transcends the demographic or sexual orientation of the audience.

Because it would be easy to pigeonhole Kids (on synopsis alone) as aimed purely at the right-on middle classes.

We’re invited into the bourgeois home of brittle, busy doctor Nic (Bening) and her hippy wife Jules (Julianne Moore) as their donor-sperm kids begin to question their genesis.

Now 18, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is old enough to secretly request a meeting with the biological pa that 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is desperate to meet.

‘Donor Dad’ turns out to be bike-riding eco-restaurateur Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who fancies playing happy families as a hobby. Nic most certainly does not. And Jules… well, from her career to the bedroom, she doesn’t know what she wants…

The fact that Nic and Jules are lesbians is the least important part of a dramedy that touches on the logistics of Sapphic sex, but is more interested in exploring universal family themes.

It’s about the toughness of finding satisfaction in the treadmill of life, the disconnect between kids and their embarrassing parents, the weird curiosity of genetics and those excruciating moments at dinner tables when nerves fray and social niceties suspend.

Co-written with Stuart Blumberg (The Girl Next Door), Cholodenko’s script is an episodic assembly that leaves some characters undernourished and betrays a weakness on the home straight for Big Speeches.

But it’s also a smart screenplay taken to greater heights by the talented cast. Moore is delightfully spacedout as a woman testing different personas, while Ruffalo brings subtlety to a character who could have been a mere dumb stud.

But it is Bening who sears as a likeable jumble of contradictions. She’s snippy, boozy, warm, petty, compassionate, bitchy, heartbroken and heartbreaking. Her tour de force comes during the dinner party from hell with the whole family.

Feeling ambushed, she nevertheless puts her best foot forward and, by turns, displays too-bright sociality, sentimentality, internal horror of betrayal and desolation.

It’s a masterclass – and reason enough to buy your ticket.

Though meandering and sometimes smug, Kids is a Sundance-mainstream crossover that should make 2010 best lists and inspire thankfulness for the family you have.  

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