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The L Word 

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No, this isn't a re-issue of the excellent documentary about The Who. This Kids Are All Right is a cinematic attempt to showcase how married lesbian parents go through life's same hardships while trying make sure that the happiness of their children comes first - in other words that they're normal people. Kids starts off cool with a Larry Clark' Wassup Rockers feel as a hand-held camera covers Laser and a pal skateboarding and knocking down garbage cans. We then get the family dynamics setting up the gay relationship and how it's really no different than any other couple with maybe a tad too much info.

The film opens with lesbian couple Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) who have been together for almost 20 years and their two teenage children named Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), show their devotion to themselves during a witty-banter-laden dinner. Through some New Age-y and mostly superficial emoting, it becomes apparent how hip the filmmakers want their audience to be. Unbeknownst to their mothers, Joni and Laser seek out their biological father, a restaurant owner and entrepreneur named Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Complications arise when the teens bond with Paul and invite him into their lives on the eve of Joni's heading out to college. Things get tricky when the sperm donor turns out to be a cool guy eventually liked by all and as his relationship with the family intensifies, more dysfunction follows.

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

2 stars

Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko

Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska

Rated R

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