Lisa Cholodenko's latest film, "The Kids Are All Right," could be slyly called not subversive. There is a marriage, betrayal and two children in the middle, but it seems safe to say that the story has never been told quite this way before.
The spouses are Nic (Annette Bening), an uptight doctor, and Jules (Julianne Moore), a creative type still searching for a career. They conceived their children with the help of a sperm bank, and now 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska, "Alice in Wonderland") and 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson, "Bridge to Terabithia") are asking the inevitable question: Who is our father?
It turns out to be Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a charismatic restaurateur whose biggest worry is which female staff member to sleep with. After meeting his children and their mothers, Paul begins to like the idea of a family. That may explain why he begins sleeping with Jules. Her reasons are more typical: Her wife doesn't understand her.
There's something beautiful in the way Cholodenko and her co-writer, Stuart Blumberg, treat these characters, acknowledging them as highly unconventional but also inescapably normal. (It also helps to have a cast that ranges from fantastic to merely great.) "Are you straight now?" is an unusual question for a spouse to ask - but the sarcasm, pain and confusion in Nic's voice are all recognizable.
Funny, tender, raunchy and excruciatingly honest, "The Kids Are All Right" ultimately becomes the best possible cliché - it's universal.