The film's timing is never quite right, however. Director Lisa Cholodenko, who perhaps not coincidentally also directed an episode of Showtime's The L Word, provides a lot of catty dialogue that floats around in the vague and ambiguous area. We get quirky, funny and intellectual, but most of the eco-friendly touchy-feely talk sounds like cutting-room-floor Woody Allen stuff. Sometimes Kids is reminiscent of early John Sayles' Return of the Secaucus Seven, but this film is weirdly paced, not really comical - just plain awkward. And it's hard to attribute this fault to anyone but the director, and this is compounded by a script written by Stuart Bloomberg and Cholodenko that reeks of overly hip lingo. I don't think most people, gay or straight, have this kind of ability to keep up such groovy open communication. Although the humor and pathos comes in the right doses, it seems to come at the wrong moments yet the teenage dialogue is well written with lines like, "Wow your sperm donor Dad is a hottie," to which Joni responds, "first of all...ewww!"
Thankfully, the acting eclipses the director's shortcomings. As the control freak boozehound, Bening hones her chops in a clear, distinct and powerful performance. Moore throws together an endearing ditzy mish-mash of all of the good roles she has played and has that smart yet vulnerable thing down. Ruffalo exudes charm and coolness with method indie acting ease, which is why so many people always like this guy. Hutcherson brings sensitivity to his teenaged-confused-jock and Wasikowska exhibits a range of emotions and excellent believability to her character's frazzled plight.
At the tail end of the day, Cholodenko has too many mixed messages and contradictory views. Maybe these aspects are worthy of discussion afterward, but for example, the inordinate amount of time developing Ruffalo's character along with open discussions of how people "feel" gets a bit old by film's end. Paul gets a raw deal at the end this movie, and conversely then so do we. Although you cannot fully knock a movie with music honcho Carter Burwell at the helm combined with soundtrack royalty like David Bowie, Marc Ribot and (god love 'em) Deerhoof, this is a coming-of-age movie that only shows us the surface of things while pretending to dig deep. At one point Nic tells Paul that she had wished he was better, and that's how I came away feeling about this movie.
The Kids Are All Right
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska