AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Summary View of Movie
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
The Kids Are All Right
Director: Lisa Cholodenko (Dir)
Release Date:   2010
Duration (in mins):  106
Print this page
Display Movie Detail

Cast: Annette Bening  (Nic)
  Julianne Moore  (Jules)
  Mark Ruffalo  (Paul)

Summary: Jules and Nic are in a long-term committed lesbian relationship, and each has a child fathered by the same anonymous sperm donor. Nic’s daughter, Joni, is 18 and about to go off to college. She has a platonic boyfriend, Jai, but her high school girl friend, Sasha, urges her to have sex with the boy. Joni’s brother, Laser, is a few years younger, and is curious about his biological father. He persuades his sister to contact the sperm bank to see if they can connect with him. Nic, a doctor, is the more successful of the two women, and the more controlling. Through the years, Jules has tried to work outside the home and made several failed attempts to establish various businesses. Currently, she has bought a pick-up truck to be used in a landscape gardening business. Nic expresses concern for her partner “putting the cart before the horse” by buying the truck before she has any clients, and also lectures Jules on allowing the loose hair from her hairbrush to clog up the drain. She questions Laser’s association with his high school friend, Clay, and is concerned that he might be homosexual. Meanwhile, as he finishes working in his garden, Paul receives a call from the sperm bank and is asked if he would mind being contacted by his biological daughter. Paul agrees to be contacted, then goes to the restaurant he owns and tells Tanya, his hostess and current girl friend, about the contact. When having sex, Jules and Nic sometimes resort to watching gay-male pornographic videos, featuring well-toned and well-endowed male sex performers. Later, Joni receives a phone call from Paul, who is told by Joni that he also has a son. They arrange to meet at Paul’s restaurant, and have a rather awkward first encounter, but agree to meet again. However, Joni insists that her brother not tell their parents of the meeting. Soon after, with his parents away, Laser and Clay explore the women’s bedroom and find one of their porno tapes. They start to play it, but Jules comes home and discovers them watching a scene involving male nudity, adding more fuel to the concern that Laser might be gay. In the ensuing lecture he receives from his two moms, Laser is chastised for going through his parents’ room, but also told that they are open-minded and asked if he has any questions. Yes, he has a question: he wants to know why the lesbian women would want to watch "gay man porn"? Somewhat embarrassed, Jules ties to explain that human sexuality is complicated, and that films featuring men show an "externalized" sexual response; but Nic is less interested in explaining herself than she is in knowing whether Laser has some sort of relationship. Misunderstanding, Laser blurts out that the kids have contacted their father, and when he realizes that this is not what Nic was asking about, he challenges them: “Did you think I was gay?” Nic insists that “no one’s seeing anyone until we meet him,” and she and Jules invite Paul over for dinner. At the meeting they learn about each other’s lives. Nic seems disappointed that Paul is in the “food service industry.” When she read his profile at the sperm bank years ago she recalled that he wrote that he was studying foreign relations. It also comes out that Nic and Jules met when Nic was a resident at UCLA, and Jules had come in as a patient. Jules mentions that she wants to start a landscaping business, and Paul offers her a job to makeover his garden. After he leaves, Nic tells Jules she doesn’t like the idea of her working for their sperm donor, but Jules takes this as yet another attempt by Nic to keep her at home and dependent. As she works with Paul in his garden and gets to know him, Jules is astonished and says, “I keep seeing my kid’s expressions in your face.” As Laser develops a bond with Paul, Clay resents the sperm-donor’s intrusion into their friendship, and Paul shares the concerns of Nic and Jules that Clay is not an appropriate companion for Laser. When Nic comes home to apologize to Jules for being so “bitchy” lately, she attempts to make up by drawing a warm bath for her partner; but when she leaves the bathroom to get some lavender salts and does not return, Jules become anxious. She gets out of the tub to look for Nic and discovers her drinking wine and on the phone with one of her patients. Then, when Jules unveils her plans for the garden to Paul, he does not respond right away, and she is devastated again. He assures her he was not disapproving, but merely being reflective. Jules reveals: “Sometimes I mistake silence for criticism.” She aggressively kisses Paul, but then backs off, acts contritely and says, “I don’t know where that came from.” One day, as Clay expresses his disdain for Paul to Laser, a dog comes up to the boys in an alley. Clay wants to piss on the dog’s head, and starts unzipping his fly. Laser protests, and Clay hits him in the face. Their friendship is now history. Joni also develops a closer connection with her father and works with him in his garden; but when he gives her a ride home on his motorcycle, Nic gives Joni and Paul a tongue lashing. Based on her experience as a doctor seeing accident victims, Nic has forbidden Joni to ride on motorbikes, but the girl protests that she is 18 and only a month away from going off to college and ought to be able to make her own decisions. Nic offers that as long as Joni lives at home she will follow the house rules. The next day, while working at Paul’s, Jules apologizes for Nic’s outburst and for her own attempt to kiss him—but she can’t help herself and ends up in bed with Paul. That evening at dinner with friends, Nic goes off on Jules about current food and environmental fads and storms away from the table, but later lets slip that she feels Paul is taking over her family. Nic is unaware just how true this is, as Jules and Paul continue their passionate daytime affair as she supposedly works in Paul’s garden. When Nic proposes that the entire family have dinner at Paul’s house so she can see the progress Jules is making in the garden, Jules tells her that she’s really just getting started. Jules speeds up her efforts to make the garden presentable, and tells Paul that she cannot continue their affair—but again they end up in bed and Paul tells Jules he thinks he’s falling for her. Sometime later Tanya tells Paul that she misses their “sleepovers,” but Paul tells her he is ready to settle down with someone who is also ready—someone other than Tanya. Upset at getting the brush off, Tanya tells Paul, “Fuck you.” The family finally gathers at Paul’s for dinner. Nic looks over the garden and tells Jules that she is proud of her accomplishment; and she also discovers that Paul has a fondness for Joni Mitchell’s “blue album,” and tells Paul that her Joni was named after Joni Mitchell. Nic and Paul seem to hit it off finally, but when she goes to the bathroom, she discovers Jules’s hair on a hairbrush and in the drain, and immediately becomes aware that Jules and Paul are having an affair. At home, Nic confronts Jules asking if she is in love with Paul and if she is straight now? Jules responds that she just needs to be appreciated. When Nic leaves the room, she discovers the kids have been listening outside the door. Banished to the living room couch, Jules tries to explain to Joni, but the girl won’t speak to her. Jules then tells Laser that her relationship with Paul is over. Joni cannot forgive Paul for breaking up the family. Sometime later, at a party with friends, Joni sees Jai talking to another girl. Sasha again urges Joni to make a move with Jai. Joni goes over to Jai, interrupts his conversation and drags him off with her. She starts kissing him, but pulls away after Jai responds, and leaves the party. At home, Jules and Nic are concerned that Joni is drunk—she responds by saying she is sick of both of them. During Joni’s last dinner at home, Paul attempts to see her and reestablish a bond between them. She tells him, “I wish you could have been better.” Nic comes to the door and calls Paul an interloper, and says that if he wants a family he should go make one of his own. Later that evening, Joni, Laser and Nic are watching a movie on television. Still cast out of the family circle, Jules grabs the remote, shuts off the TV and says she has something to say. She tells them that marriage is hard, that couples are together for so long that they stop seeing the other person, and that sometimes you hurt the ones you love the most. She says she is sorry and hopes they will forgive her. The next day Jules, Laser and Nic take Joni to her new college dorm room. In the back seat on the ride home, Laser tells his parents that he doesn’t think they should break up. When asked why, he says that he thinks they’re too old. Not exactly thrilled with Laser’s response, nevertheless, Jules and Nic hold hands as they continue toward home. 

Distribution Company: Focus Features
Production Company: Focus Features
Gilbert Films
Saint Aire Productions
Artist International
10th Hole Productions
Antidote Films
Mandalay Vision
Director: Lisa Cholodenko (Dir)
  Bergen Swanson (Unit prod mgr)
  Jesse Nye (1st asst dir)
  Jasmine Marie Alhambra (2d asst dir)
  Emily Hogan (2d 2d asst dir)
Producer: Gary Gilbert (Prod)
  Jeffrey Levy-Hinte (Prod)
  Celine Rattray (Prod)
  Jordan Horowitz (Prod)
  Daniela Taplin Lundberg (Prod)
  Philippe Hellmann (Prod)
  Steven Saxton (Exec prod)
  Ron Stein (Exec prod)
  J. Todd Harris (Exec prod)
  Anne O'Shea (Exec prod)
  Christy Cashman (Exec prod)
  Riva Marker (Exec prod)
  Andrew Sawyer (Exec prod)
  Neil Katz (Exec prod)
  Bergen Swanson (Co-prod)
  Laura Rosenthal (Co-prod)
  Charles E. Bush Jr. (Co-prod)
  Todd Labarowski (Co-prod)
  Joel Newton (Co-prod)
  Camille Moreau (Co-prod)
  Clairmont Cameras (Filmed with)
Writer: Lisa Cholodenko (Wrt)
  Stuart Blumberg (Wrt)

Subject Major: Family relationships
  Artificial insemination
  Sex role

Display Movie Detail
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.