Teens Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) live with their two mothers, Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore), who both used the same sperm donor. Laser persuades Joni to contact the donor, Paul (Ruffalo), who bonds with Joni and Jules, much to Nic
Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as lesbian life partners: it’s a compelling proposition from the off. They make an instantly convincing couple in this comedy-drama that would work almost as well without the gender twist.
The challenges of child-rearing have put a subtle strain on the relationship between Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore) — and the gap only widens when sperm donor Paul (Mark Ruffalo) comes into the picture. Hard-working Nic is wary of the intruder, but free-spirited Jules shares a cautious rapport with him. Agreeing to landscape his garden, Jules grows closer to Paul while Nic grits her teeth and knocks back the red wine after work.
It’s a keenly observed portrait of a marriage put to the test, and of human behaviour in the face of change or threat. Despite their differences, both Nic and Jules are utterly relatable: their decisions make sense even when we know they’re bad ones.
It’s clear that director and co-writer Lisa Cholodenko (High Art) knows her subjects well: she even fell pregnant via a sperm donor while working on the screenplay. You sense co-writer Stuart Blumberg had strong input in the role of charming bachelor Paul, another thoroughly identifiable character perfectly pitched by Ruffalo.
Josh Hutcherson is decent as the bolshy son, while Mia Wasikowska is self-assured as clever, considered Joni. These teenagers are happy with their parents but curious about their father, and their explorations lead to poignant and funny moments.
For yes, this is funny. For every smart little observation there’s a big laugh, and the two are often combined. Conversations show a keen eye for awkwardness, from Paul’s rant against teams to sporty Laser, to his explanation of why he donated sperm (“It just seemed like a lot more fun than giving blood”). Cholodenko keeps the mood breezy, always seeing the humour in uncomfortable situations without losing a sense of heart.
There’s a danger of the children being slightly underwritten; in particular, a subplot about Laser and his obnoxious mate never comes to fruition. This is the adult’s show — but that’s kind of the point. The kids are alright — it’s the grown-ups we should be worried about.
A witty, warm exploration of family life thats conventional and unconventional in equal measure.