Directed by Lisa Cholodenko, 'The Kids are All Right' offers a close-up encounter with an unconventional family unit in California (lesbian parents of a fifteen-year-old boy, Laser, and his eighteen-year-old sister, Joni). The plot involves a quest by the kids to meet their biological father, Paul, and the chaos that will inevitably ensue for the family.
Though unconventional in structure, the family behaves like any other family, handling problems in ways that are no more creative than any 'conventional' family. The 'moms' are both failing to influence Laser to terminate his friendship with someone they deem unsuitable, and end up rowing, shouting, etc. etc...not the cool, hip and wise approach that they no doubt want to portray of themselves. In fact, it is not until the appearance of their biological father, played by the charming Mark Ruffalo, that some of the problems rise to the surface, and actually get resolved. There is an implicit suggestion that the influence of an outsider can bring a 'freshness', or change of dynamic to a 'stuffy' family, where, as Jules points out, all the crap that people are dealing with gets projected onto each other. Despite the family's obvious desire to be all open, new-age and tolerant, this family too grapples with the pedestrian problems of feeling trapped, misunderstood and burdened with a vague feeling of stagnation.
Joni forms an immediate bond with Paul, and admires him in a slightly uncomfortable, 'flirty' way. She becomes a stronger person by the end of the summer, standing up to the strict, antsy mom, Nic (Annette Benning). However, Jules, the ditsy, dreamy lesbian mom also forms a bond with him-an impulsive sexual encounter that closes her consultation on landscaping his garden.
What ensues is the heavy, judging mindset of Nic being played out in the way she deals with such betrayal. She cannot, it seems accept any responsibility for the crisis that is erupting around her, a crisis that was clearly gathering force already, and that perhaps prompted Jules' 'fling'. She mopes about, hardened and bitter, aimlessly watching T.V. and disengaging with her family. What arises is some real communication, initiated by Jules, and that marks a new beginning, a 'clearing of the air' for the family. (This is her speech about relationships being hard work, and projections...) As Nic's tears silently flow, we know that something has shifted, they're going to be ok.
The film ends with the family driving Joni to college and bidding her goodbye. We get a sense of the shy Joni feeling a sense of relief at being able to explore things for herself, removed from the influences of home. As the moms tearfully drive back, comforting one another and floundering with this new feeling of loss, unsure of what the next stage of their life will bring, we wonder if they, in fact, are the 'kids' in this story.
Overall, it's a good film, one that moves slowly, and perhaps doesn't leave much of an immediate impression, but certainly one that gives a very real look at the 'stuffiness' and heaviness that can often dwell in families, if they are not willing to look honestly at what is going on inside themselves and gloss over the truth by focusing narrowly on petty issues, more often involving the 'kids' than the parents.