Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play Nic and Jules, a married couple with teenage children, in The Kids Are All Right. This comfortable Southern California family has got problems like any other: Bening’s Nic, a driven, sharp-edged doctor, relies a bit too much on red wine to soften up; Moore’s Jules is prone to insecurity and can’t get a career in gear. (Her newest venture is landscape gardening.) Their daughter, Joni (Alice in Wonderland‘s radiant Mia Wasikowska), an A student about to leave the nest for college, feels the strain of high expectations. Their 15-year-old son, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), doesn’t even realize how much he’s been missing a fatherly presence until, after hiding the quest from their moms, the siblings track down their biological ”donor dad,” Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a loose and groovy bachelor restaurateur. (Ruffalo looks sexy as hell harvesting organic veggies for the restaurant’s locavore menu.) With the addition of Paul’s footloose, hetero masculine energy — he might as well stitch the motto ”It’s all good!” on his motorcycle jacket — the clan is in for some bumps ahead.

I don’t know what’s more delightful — that The Kids Are All Right stars Bening, Moore, and Ruffalo at the top of their games in an irresistible story of lesbian marriage, sperm-donor fatherhood, sex, red wine, and teen angst. Or that this warm, funny, sexy, smart movie erases the boundaries between specialized ”gay content” and universal ”family content” with such sneaky authority. So let’s say both, and give high fives (or whatever they give in Southern California) to director Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon) and her co-writer, Stuart Blumberg, for using the components of a commercial dramedy to cross boundaries with such indie élan. (Perhaps there’s no substitute for experience; Cholodenko and her partner are mothers of a young son.)

Guided by an outstanding script, everyone is able to go deep into her or his character. Particular huzzahs are due Bening for the precision she brings to the brusque yet emotionally expressive Nic. A famously natural, mature beauty in a Hollywood culture of youth-oriented artifice, Bening uses physical authenticity as a source of dramatic strength. Comfortable in her own skin, she’s at ease inhabiting the body and exposing the soul of Nic, a complicated woman who also knows exactly who she is. A

The Kids Are All Right
  • Movie
  • 106 minutes