It's been said before, here and elsewhere, that the summer of 2010 was not exactly an embarrassment of cinematic riches. In fact, things were pretty grim. But amongst all of the big budget, fire-bally fare, there emerged what I considered to be a pretty clear candidate for "independent movie that will capture the mainstream zeitgeist" along the lines of 'Little Miss Sunshine' or 'Juno.' Of course, that didn't happen, but the movie remains better than both 'Sunshine' and 'Juno:' Lisa Cholodenko's nearly note-perfect 'The Kids Are All Right.'
It's the tale, lovingly rendered with a script by Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg, of a lesbian couple played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. The couple have a wonderful, warm home life, with a daughter about to head off to college (Mia Wasikowska) and a mischievous son in high school (Josh Hutcherson). The son, named Laser (if you can't tell, they have a kind of hippy household), decides that he wants to find out who their sperm donor was (it's implied that each woman gave birth to one child using the same sperm). Since he's underage, he needs his sister Joni (named after Joni Mitchell – again, hippies) to help request the records. So the two do. And they find… Mark Ruffalo.
And the rest of the movie basically follows what happens after they decide to reconnect with their biological father – how his integration into the family disrupts things, the messy emotions that go into it, and all that. Telling you what, exactly, happens would give away some of the surprises, and really, this isn't a movie that's terribly burdened by plot, so you already know enough about what goes on in the story.
What makes 'The Kids Are All Right' so refreshing is that it never falls into a trap of being preachy or overtly political. The movie is a representation of a family, and as we all know, families are by and large completely nuts. And all of the dysfunctions inherent to a heterosexually based couple are just as present (if not more-so) with two moms. Things are truthful and emotionally resonant and never once does the movie stretch to make a point or force a political agenda. (In its own way, this makes it a much slyer statement about the soundness of gay marriage, but that's neither here nor there.)
But the greatest asset to 'The Kids Are All Right's success is the peerless cast, led by all-time-great Julianne Moore and Annette Bening performances. Annette Bening in particular has had an amazing year, starring in this and the overlooked drama 'Mother & Child' (when you're saddled with a name that awful, no wonder it was overlooked, I know). Both women are complex, but in many ways, Bening is saddled with being the "straight woman," against the more wildly volatile Moore. Together, however, they form a perfect portrait of domestic instability that will ring true to everyone, no matter their sexual orientation.
Oh yeah, and then there's Ruffalo. If you're a fan of the actor, who has put in winning roles in movies as diverse as 'Zodiac,' 'You Can Count On Me' and this year's 'Shutter Island,' then you will be slightly less shocked-and-awed by his performance here, as a man who might not be living up to his own expectations (and might be living up to even fewer of the expectations of the women who used his sperm) but is carving out a singular, incredibly identifiable kind of bo-ho West Coast lifestyle for himself. He may not be perfect, but like most of us, he's trying. And as the de-facto "dad" in 'The Kids Are All Right's nuclear family, he makes a hell of a father figure.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Kids Are All Right' comes on a 50GB Blu-ray disc which is BD-Live enabled. It is Region A locked.
The VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer (aspect ratio: 1.85:1) perfectly captures the sunny, filmic look of 'The Kids Are All Right.'
While the movie isn't a stunningly photographed comedy it does, at the very least, look better than most comedies, skewing away from the over-lit textures of most laughers and instead going with a rich and warm palette. Skin tones look equally naturalistic, with quite deep black levels, and a fine level of grain that gives the presentation a nice, filmic look.
Besides that, there isn't a whole lot else to say, besides the fact that it looks a lot like it did when I saw the film this past summer, and that, while this might not be the kind of demo-material you show off to your friends, it's a very strong, very solid transfer. It should also be noted that it is free of any buggy technical issues and is, really, very good.
Like the video presentation, the audio on this disc isn't exactly going to blow anybody away, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is quite strong none the less. And you realize this, almost off the bat, with the Vampire Weekend song that starts off the movie. It's loud and punchy and, while not exactly characteristic of the mix, it at least shows you the level of quality you'll be dealing with for the rest of the film.
This is obviously a dialogue-heavy affair, so most things are kept front and center. The dialogue is always crisp, clear and recognizable, and sounds quite good. The rear channels are used mostly for a little extra something-something with the pop songs or musical score, but occasionally pop up in the movie proper.
Overall, the mix sounds really great and is representative of how it came across in the theaters. You're not missing out on anything, all the elements that are there sound dynamite, and it isn't the kind of movie that demands a whole lot of surround activity (unless I fell asleep and missed the part where a meteor crashed into Julianne Moore and Annette Bening's house).
Additionally, there are French DTS 5.1 and Spanish DTS 5.1 audio options and subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Despite some hogwash about being able to control the Blu-ray with your "smart phone," all of the extras presented on this disc (and trust me, there aren't a lot) are also available on the simultaneously-released DVD.
'The Kids Are All Right' is one of the very best movies to be released this year. With a winning cast, tons of heart, and a great sense of humor, it's one of those movies you seldom see at the multiplex. With great picture and sound which, if not exactly reference quality, still wow, and minimal special features anchored by a wonderful commentary (if not much else), this is easily recommended.