A non-traditional lesbian family lives in the suburbs of Southern California, though it feels like San Francisco area. Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) are the Moms. They used a sperm bank to get impregnated by the same man eighteen years ago. Now the daughter, Joni (Mia Wasikowska), is eighteen and on the verge of going to college. The son, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), is fifteen and twists his sister’s arm to use her new legal adult status to find out who their biological father is. Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a co-opt organic foodie who owns a new restaurant and made those sperm donations so long ago. The first meetings go well. Kids and sperm donor like each other. But when Moms are introduced relationships grow more complicated. Paul finds his parenting/family instincts awakened possibly for the first time. An affair threatens everyone’s happiness.
Here’s a domestic drama where everyone is not trying to spit as much venom as possible at each other (e.g. “Revolutionary Road,” “Rachel Getting Married,” and scores of others). Nobody dies or gets killed either. Instead the natural dynamics of family are enough to wring enough drama and humor. Yes, it’s non-traditional, but parental-child-spouse relationships are universal. In fact, the history of the Moms’ relationship is realized believably and honestly.
The movie is pleasantly optimistic. Even when the drama is most heady there’s something optimistic about the whole. Maybe it is because this alternative family has been successful and that’s a real victory in this day and age. Also, there genuinely seems to be love between all family members. When was the last time that happened in a movie not specifically made for kids?
Co-writer, Director Lisa Cholodenko’s strongest scene is when sounds drops to a low whine as Nic realizes something. Cholodenko is very good at establishing unique tone. This is also evidenced in her debut, High Art. Her direction isn’t flashy and is strongest about getting great interaction and nuance between actors. Comedy is character driven rising naturally from conversations. Scenes of only teenagers feel real and unforced with emotional tensions just below the surface. It’s refreshing to have teenagers not played by fashion models.
Rarely are middle-aged women shot so beautifully with all wizened age of their bodies shown in unadorned glory. I mean, really, wrinkles rarely look this good. Cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo is to be commended. It’s a choice that contributes to the film’s good nature.
By the way, why use a The Who song as the title? I guess they’re just bluntly going for that demographic. That’s what I think when I hear a The Who song during a commercial.