The most talked-about movie at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and the winner of the Teddy Award for Best Feature Film at the 2010 Berlin International Film Festival, The Kids Are All Right is directed by Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon) from an original screenplay that she wrote with Stuart Blumberg (Keeping the Faith). It’s a richly drawn portrait of a modern family.
Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) are married and share a cozy suburban Southern California home with their teenage children, Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson). Nic and Jules – or, when referred to jointly by Joni, “Moms” – gave birth to and raised their children, and built a family life for the four of them. As Joni prepares to leave for college, 15-year-old Laser presses her for a big favor. He wants Joni, now 18, to help him find their biological father; the two teenagers were conceived by artificial insemination.
Against her better judgment, Joni honors her brother’s request and manages to make contact with “bio-dad” Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an easygoing restaurateur. The kids find themselves drawn to the confirmed bachelor’s footloose style – especially in contrast to Nic, a principled doctor who has long established their house rules. Jules, who has been looking to start a new career in landscaping, also strikes up a rapport with Paul. As Paul comes into the lives of the forthright four, an unexpected new chapter begins for them as family ties are defined, re-defined, and then re-re-defined.
Cholodenko says that writing this film with Blumberg was a long process — over four years.
“[Lisa] said, ‘I want to write a mainstream movie about moms who have kids and sperm donors,'” says Blumberg.
“I kind of pitched him the idea,” adds Cholodenko. “He, for his own reasons, had an interest in it.” [Blumberg was a sperm donor in college]. “I had friends who had been on all sides of that equation, and my partner and I were trying to get pregnant. There had been a lot of stories about donor kids, and those kids are now coming of age. That’s a brave new world for families. So while Stuart thought it would be fun to go for the more ‘indie’ flavor, I thought it would be interesting for this project to bring in somebody who had a more commercial sensibility. We figured this could be a good marriage.”
Blumberg admits that neither had written anything collaboratively before.
“It was an interesting dynamic,” he says. “Men and women are different. I loved working with Lisa. Sometimes I’d sit at the computer and be like, ‘Okay, I’ve only got so much time, so let’s get started,’ but she’d be like, ‘No, no, tell me about your weekend. What happened?’ ‘We really have to start.’ ‘No, no, we need to process.'”
“When I would lament to my partner that I didn’t know if the script was any good,” says Cholodenko, “she’d say, ‘Keep writing ‘til you break your own heart. If it’s resonating with you, it’s on the right track.’ Stuart and I had been writing for about a year and a half, and I was simultaneously trying to get pregnant – which I did. We thought we could make the film and get it all done before I had the baby. There was a first incarnation of the film; we tried to get the production up in 2005-2006. That didn’t exactly time out. By the time the financing came together, I was too pregnant to make the movie. So I had my son, and spent the next couple of years trying to get my life re-oriented and spend time with him. But Stuart and I continued to write. Revisions made the script better. Because we had worked on it for a long time, it read really visually, too.”
Cholodenko explains, “The story is meant to be an exploration about what all families face, especially families with children; the anxiety and comedy and pain and pathos of watching your family shapeshift on you. Whether you’re gay or straight or single or interracial or whatever – everybody has a similar trajectory, all families face similar challenges; the emotional rites of passage, the choices made, and whether you stick things out and stay together as a family. What goes into making those decisions, and where can you get derailed – that’s also what we’re exploring.”
And, according to Blumberg, “Our story’s family is as wonderful and troubled and flawed and impractical as any family. With stories like this, you get to delve into why human beings behave the way they do. While I love action movies and thrillers, getting to spend time within human nature can be really fun and
“The Kids Are All Right” is now showing on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
© 2010 Focus Features Credit: Suzanne Tenner