July 23, 2010 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'The Kids Are All Right' -- GRADE: A-

Review: 'Kids Are All Right': A family film for modern times

Tom Long reviews 'Kids Are All Right'
Tom Long reviews 'Kids Are All Right': Julianne Moore, Annette Bening star in funny movie about modern family life

Definitions of family, love and friendship all get put to the test with wit and warmth in "The Kids Are All Right," one of the year's most honest and endearing films.

Blessed with a supremely talented and natural cast, director Lisa Cholodenko ("High Art"), writing along with Stuart Blumberg ("The Girl Next Door"), has fashioned a portrait of the modern family that manages to touch many buttons without hammering too hard on any one. You get a sense of the breadth of these people.

First there are the moms -- longtime lesbian partners Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore). Nic is the responsible one, a physician who can turn to a few extra glasses of wine for strength. Jules is a dreamer, just now starting her latest career as a landscape designer. It helps the camera mightily that both women are beautiful.

And then there are their kids, the products of artificial insemination, both from the same anonymous donor.

Joni (Mia Wasikowska, far more impressive here than as Alice in "Alice in Wonderland") has just graduated from high school and leaves for college at the summer's end. Brooding jock Laser (Josh Hutcherson) seems a bit lost as the only male in the family, and he seems to want something more.

That something more, it turns out, is a father. Now that Joni's 18, she can legally try to contact the sperm donor who contributed half their genetic makeup.

Prodded by Laser, she does just that, and the kids eventually meet up with Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a freewheeling, motorcycle-riding, organic health food restaurant-owning guy who had no idea somebody actually used his essential juices for procreation.

Then comes the inevitably awkward lunch where the kids bring their newly discovered dad home to meet the moms. Nic's feathers are ruffled and she's wary of this sudden interloper, while Jules seems more open to extending the family. When Paul hires Jules to landscape his backyard, you know complications are looming.

While the moms' lesbian relationship isn't pushed full forward -- this is a family, first and foremost -- it is used to wonderfully funny and humanizing effect. Not even the moms can explain their love of hardcore gay male porn, and they do have a certain cluelessness when it comes to dealing with Laser, which they at least sense.

Cholodenko combines the many modern elements in play here -- the sexuality; the breezy California life style; Paul's organic holiness and Peter Pan tendencies -- with a deft mix of insight and cheekiness. And yet when it comes to dramatic moments -- when the fragile family extension falters -- "Kids" is as taut, touching and real as you could want.

It helps that Bening and Moore work so easily off one another -- they are your basic long-loving, long-bickering married couple, each balancing the other. Moore, in particular, lets loose in this role, throwing body and soul into a character who's both lost and found.

It's probably a bit early to muse on Oscar nominations, but "The Kids Are All Right" is certainly a worthy contender, especially in the Best Actress race. The film slips a bit toward the end -- of course, so do its characters -- but its faith in the power of family and love endures. In the truest sense, this is the best family film of the year.

tlong@detnews.com">tlong@detnews.com (313) 222-8879

Annette Bening, from left, Julianne Moore, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska and Mark Ruffalo star in "The Kids are All Right." / Suzanne Tanner
"The Kids Are All Right" with Annette Bening, left, and Julianne ... (Suzanne Tenner)