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Test tube anxiety: The Kids Are All Right 

*The Kids Are All Right (R)

Cinemark 16, Kimball's Peak Three

At its simplest, The Kids Are All Right is about two teenagers seeking out their sperm-donor father. But really the film is about family, from pretty much every angle you can imagine. This fourth feature from Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon) is rich and real, so textured that not a second of its 104 minutes seems superfluous. That it centers on a lesbian couple is, for the most part, an insignificant detail.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) met in college, became a couple, and decided to each conceive a child via artificial insemination. Now that Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is 18, her younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is pushing her to pursue her legal right to contact their mothers' baby daddy. Joni is hesitant but does it anyway, and soon they meet Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the wayward, motorcycle-riding owner of an organic farm and restaurant who says things like, "Right on!" and "I love lesbians!" during their initial phone call.

The siblings go through phases of liking and disliking Paul, who is initially taken aback but otherwise willing to be part of their lives. And so do their mothers, who agree to meet him when the kids 'fess up. Nic, a doctor, is a champion of passive-aggressiveness, and the dynamic between the five takes a similar tone — a mix of superficial politeness, sarcasm, irritation and genuine warmth.

The latter comes mostly from Jules, a New Age-y mom who doesn't follow through with the projects she starts and whose advice to Laser regarding his obnoxious best friend amounts to, "Is he helping you grow?" Her latest venture, a landscaping business, allows her to get to know Paul better when she does some work at his home. She likes what she sees, much to Nic's wine-fueled annoyance.

Hardly a note of The Kids Are All Right, which Cholodenko co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg, feels unnatural (though occasionally it's sitcom-y). The inverse of this year's earlier, ridiculous ruckus over gay actors playing straight characters proves true here: Bening and Moore may be A-listers, but there's nothing forced about Nic and Jules' relationship, sexual or otherwise. (Granted, Moore got some practice in her last film, Chloe.)

Bening is especially terrific as the Alpha Mom, vocal and cutting even when she's not guzzling a bottle of red; when Jules gently remarks during their lunch with Paul that Nic's on her fourth glass of wine, the latter retorts, "It's my third, but thanks for counting!" Moore, meanwhile, provides much of the comic relief, particularly when she tries to explain to Laser why the couple watches gay-male porn, citing the "inauthenticity" of lesbian films that often feature actresses just pretending.

The tumbling consequences of Joni's initial phone call are largely representative of the messes in everyone's family lives. There's the distance that wedges itself between long-term lovers, infidelity, teenage rebellion, sibling relationships, leaving the nest, and the difficulty of accepting that the person you know best is actually a douchebag.

Of course, there's also the central question of anonymous sperm donation and whether it's wise to allow the children born of this union to get to know their biological fathers. (Nic says she "gets it," but then follows with: "Like we're not enough, or something?") But when it comes to the most important themes in Cholodenko's film, you don't have to have two moms to relate.

scene@csindy.com

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