July 8 (Bloomberg) -- With all the hubbub about same-sex marriage, along comes a movie that reminds us that gay spouses can be as screwed up as heterosexual ones.
“The Kids Are All Right” is a funny, thoughtful dramedy about a couple (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore) whose two teenage children -- the products of artificial insemination from an anonymous donor -- find their biological father (Mark Ruffalo) and develop a friendship with him.
Director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko portrays the couple and their kids (Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson) as an ordinary suburban family facing the kind of mundane problems that most people can relate to. It’s not “Ozzie and Harriet,” to be sure, but it does examine a curious slice of domestic life in the 21st century.
The two moms -- Nic (Bening) is a fussy, by-the-book doctor, while Jules (Moore) is an artsy dabbler trying to start a landscaping business -- don’t find out about their kids’ rendezvous with bio-dad Paul until after the fact. But they agree to meet the laid-back bachelor restaurateur over lunch at their upscale Southern California home. During the meal, Jules agrees to fix up Paul’s backyard, a job that soon turns into something more personal than professional.
Feeling neglected and unloved by Nic, Jules turns to Paul for emotional -- and sexual -- satisfaction. Things get even messier when Nic learns about the affair at a family dinner that begins on a joyous note with a Joni Mitchell singalong after Nic and Paul discover they’re both huge fans of Joni’s “Blue” album.
Bening and Moore sparkle as the longtime lovers whose relationship has grown stale. Ruffalo is charming as the carefree, motorcycle-riding lady’s man and Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) has the right edginess as the brainy daughter about to leave for college.
The film doesn’t really explore the particular hardships of being a gay couple, especially one raising two teenagers. And the fling between Paul and Jules might strike some as a hetero fantasy. But it’s hard to dislike a film with such engaging performances and a reassuring message: the kids are all right, after all.
“The Kids Are All Right,” from Focus Features,’’ opens tomorrow in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. Rating: ***
Illumination Entertainment, founded by former 20th Century Fox producer Chris Meledandri, is off to a rousing start with “Despicable Me,” a computer-animated 3-D feature about a super-villain whose life is dramatically changed by three orphan girls.
A sophisticated comedy filled with verbal and visual fireworks, it signals a new challenger to Pixar’s long run of animated supremacy. As an independent division of Universal Pictures, Illumination has the financial clout and creative control to become a major force in the business.
In “Despicable Me,” an egomaniacal scoundrel named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) plans to pull off the biggest heist in history by stealing the moon with the help of his diabolical shrink ray. But the bald, pointy-nosed criminal gets sidetracked by the orphaned sisters, who see him as a potential dad and slowly begin to melt his cold heart.
Other notable characters include Gru’s hyper-critical mom (Julie Andrews); his arch-rival Vector (Jason Segel), a nerd who wears an orange jumpsuit and shoots a gun loaded with live piranhas; Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), a hard-of-hearing mad scientist; Mr. Perkins (Will Arnett), Gru’s loan manager at the Bank of Evil; and Gru’s minions, little yellow creatures who blindly obey their leader.
They’re all sharply drawn, as physical figures and personalities. Like the best animated movies, “Despicable Me” makes cartoon characters come to life.
“Despicable Me,” from Universal Pictures, opens tomorrow across the U.S. Rating: ***1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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