Review in a Hurry: The Kids Are All Right is being applauded for its depiction of a lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) with adopted kids (Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson) being as normal and dysfunctional as any other average family. And that it does—it just doesn't do much else. It's an amiable character portrait that is enjoyable at times but is difficult to get emotionally invested in.
The Bigger Picture: The movie begins from the perspective of high-school senior Joni (Wasikowska) who, along with her brother named Laser (Hutcherson), has two mommies, or "momses" as she calls them—butch control freak Nic (Bening) and feminine flake Jules (Moore).
Anyway, Laser (don't ask what's up with that name, as the movie doesn't tell) has started trying to find his biological father and enlists Joni's help. Despite her reservations, she agrees, and rather easily finds Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who proves to be kind of a dream dude—he's friendly, rides a motorcycle and runs an organic restaurant where he grows his own vegetables himself. As Joni's best friend Sasha puts it, "spermster's a hottie!"
So the kids kinda want Paul to be part of their lives, and he's pretty psyched too—he gets awesome children without having to do all the messy stuff in their formative years. But the parents are less enthused. Finally persuaded to have him over for dinner, Nic simply says, "Let's just kill him with kindness and put it to bed." But then Jules bonds with him, too. She has been trying to start a landscaping business, and Paul needs work done in his backyard, so soon he's her first client.
And there's more. We've already had it established that Nic and Jules enjoy gay male porn, but Jules, it seems, has a more fluid sexual identity than Nic, and can also be tempted by a real-life guy.
At this point, the movie plainly stops being from Joni's perspective, and becomes Paul and Jules' story. And it probably should have been thus throughout, as director Lisa Cholodenko seems more interested in these characters than anyone else. Joni remains mostly one-note—she chafes under Nic's strictness—while Nic never really transcends her frosty exterior to become a fully dimensional, likable person. By the time the movie wraps up, it's like it's pretending to have been Joni's story all along, which it really wasn't.
A movie of this sort needn't necessarily be told from one perspective if you're going to balance a lot of subplots in Altman-esque fashion. But this isn't a bunch of subplots—it's one family being affected by meeting one guy. And it would be a stronger story if it were primarily one character's story. If Joni, let us discover the affair through her eyes. If Jules, let us discover the sperm donor's return from her perspective.
The 180—a Second Opinion: The kids of the title may not be all that interesting, but Ruffalo's a real charmer, and Julianne Moore, usually typecast as a smart woman, is fun to watch playing slightly dumb.