Despicable Me was this weekend's box office champ in total revenue and audience size, but a much smaller movie posted what may be the most impressive figure in ticket sales. The Kids Are All Right, an independent film that was shot in three weeks and centers on a lesbian family, took in an average of $70,282 at the seven theaters where it opened in limited release. That's more than four times the per-screen average of $16,225 earned by big-budget multiplex filler Despicable Me.
Kids—which was shot on film, not digital video—had opened to rave reviews and instant Oscar talk last Friday, and will go into wider release later this month. The movie did come with some prerelease buzz, thanks to an enthusiastic reception at January's Sundance Film Festival, where Focus Features purchased it for $4.8 million, the highest amount paid for any film in this year's festival.
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right stars Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as Nic and Jules, a couple with two teenage children fathered by the same anonymous sperm donor. Shortly before she leaves home for college, the 18-year-old daughter, Joni (Mia Wasikowska), is persuaded by her younger brother, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), to locate the donor—who turns out to be a scruffy, carefree but supremely charming Mark Ruffalo. He cultivates a unique and uniquely fraught relationship with each member of the family—which is already on edge due to the mothers' bickering and the kids' growing pains.
Cholodenko, who'd previously written and directed the movies High Art and Laurel Canyon, cowrote Kids with Stuart Blumberg. Noticeably absent from their new movie: any grandstanding, or commentary even, about same-sex marriage. Noticeably present in the movie: spot-on casting and marvelous performances by all five stars as well as the actors in smaller roles, including Yaya DaCosta as Paul's coworker/lover. The leads work together beautifully as an ensemble—and very convincingly as a family—and give moving, naturalistic performances. Bonus for theater fans: Ruffalo and Bening are both stage veterans and Tony nominees, while Moore and DaCosta were seen recently in Broadway's The Vertical Hour and off-Broadway's The First Breeze of Summer, respectively. And Joni's best friend is played by Zosia Mamet, daughter of David (and actress Linsday Crouse) and granddaughter of playwright Russel Crouse.
BroadwayWorld was on hand for press interviews with some actors and the screenwriters of The Kids Are All Right, conducted in New York City a week before the movie opened. Here are excerpts from those interviews.
What attracted you to this film?
It was always Lisa. I met her at a Women in Film lunch and went over, introduced myself and asked why I hadn't seen the script to High Art. It was like, "Excuse me, but I could have done that job!" Terrible, very actor-y. And we had a meeting, and then Kids came along. But in independent film, it takes forever to get financing, and real life intrudes—she had a baby—so it took 4½ or 5 years [to begin shooting].
There's a strong sense of realism and intimacy to the characters in this movie. How did Lisa work with the actors to draw that out?
It's present in the script. And she's very well-prepared, she has a very relaxed attitude herself. If you look at her movies, you see she's so interested in subtlety and nuance. She doesn't like a broad stroke. She really likes things to play out on people's faces.
How come you and Annette make such a convincing married couple?
What we have going for us is we've both been married for a super-long time, and we both have children. She has four, I have two. The family-unit thing was pretty darn familiar to us. And for the kids as well—Josh and Mia. They were both still living at home.
The two mothers in the movie are about to lose one of their kids when she goes away to college. Is that something you've started thinking about in your own life?
My oldest child is 12½, he's really on the cusp of adolescence. So it's something that you see coming. And it's so poignant. My gosh, it's a lot to handle—for everybody. The whole movie is so poignant because it takes place in the last summer that they're going to have an intact family. And they all know it, and they all have that pressure: How are we going to make this count? You see it in all of them.
How do you reconcile Jules' bad behavior, particularly her firing the gardener just because he knows one of her naughty secrets?
That's what's great: What a selfish, bourgeois pain in the neck she is. It's great to see somebody do that in a film. She's so guilt-ridden, she's scapegoating somebody else. What's wonderful too is she acknowledges it: "I'm so f—-ed up." She doesn't say anything about [how he is affected]. She knows she's doing it as a way to alleviate her own guilt, and then she's aware of it and guilty about that, and then she makes herself conveniently forget it. In life, people have abhorrent behavior. You might think that we're all so sainted and stuff, but get on an airplane sometimes. Watch how people talk to a flight attendant.
There's comedy in this film, and you also just did a stint on the sitcom 30 Rock. Would you like to do more comedy?
The older you get, the less appealing tragedy becomes! [Laughs] That's where I find myself.
What does your character, Paul, have in common with you?
I thought it was a really interesting turn on a kind of American iconoclast figure, this Peter Pan bachelor who lives his life purely for his own pleasure. A lot of us have looked up to people like that, and wanted to be them.... I think I approach life and people with the same kind of attitude as Paul has. He has a fairly open heart, he's not too judgmental of people, he's interested and he's adventuresome. He's got a sense of humor to him that I relate to. I don't have the confidence that he has, I never had the confidence with ladies that he has. I wish that I'd found a sperm bank when I was in my early 20s—think of all the wasted talent!
How do you feel about the outcome for your character?
Growth is painful, and he gets spanked [as a consequence of his behavior]. But I like to think that he's going to have a relationship with his kids. You go from the beginning of the movie—that guy doesn't have to beg a woman for anything, and would never do it—to begging Julie to stay with him, and begging his daughter to forgive him, and even that look to his son is begging for some connection. I think that's a big change for him.
What was it like making The Kids Are All Right at the same time you were working on your directorial debut, Sympathy for Delicious—and having both screened at Sundance?
I directed my film [and] was in post when I got the call for this. It didn't look like it was going to work out with my schedule. It was literally shooting when I had to deliver my movie. I'd been away from my family, it was a tough year, and I needed a break. So it looked like it wasn't going to happen, which was really heartbreaking for me. My wife was texting Julie: "What's up with that movie?...Mark loves that movie....What's going on with it?" And she [responded]: "The part's open—would he do it?" "He won't talk about anything else!" So it came together. I was still editing [Sympathy] when we shot it. But I only ended up working about seven days on this. It was a wild ride at Sundance. My movie opened to some really mean-spirited reviews, which eventually turned around, but the first round was very painful. This movie was such a huge success immediately out of the gate, and then my movie taking a Special Jury Prize at Sundance—it turned out to be this incredibly drastic swing between elation and depression throughout.
Do you have friends with gay parents that you spoke to in preparing for this role?
No, but my two best friends are both gay, so I've been raised with gay rights and equal rights as one of my biggest morals in my family. I had two uncles who unfortunately passed away of AIDS before I was born, and my mom was super-super-close to them, so it's a very poignant thing in my life.
What do you make of Laser's relationship with Paul and how it changes over the course of the film?
I think Laser ends up having the most accurate read of Paul—in the beginning, when he says, "He's a little into himself." It turns out to be so true. I also think Laser has certain expectations about what Paul is going to be like—some sort of manly man—and he sees this guy who's an organic Silver Lake, California, type.
What about Laser's friend Clay, who's kind of a jerk?
Well, first of all, I think any guy has to have males around him in his life. The way I justified Laser and Clay being friends is: They've been friends for a while; when they first met, Clay was a good kid, they had a lot in common. Then maybe Clay started going down this other path, and Laser—not really knowing any better—went down the path with him, just being a loyal friend. When Paul comes around, and Paul becomes a friend more so than a dad, he sees a different type of guy.
Did Lisa ever tell you why your character was named Laser?
I just found out like two days ago where it came from. Stuart and Lisa both separately knew the same person named Laser, and they figured Laser would be a good name for my character. Joni got an awesome name based on Joni Mitchell, and I got Laser just because.
What did you learn from Lisa that you hadn't gotten from other directors?
Lisa just has a great energy about her. Up until I worked with her, directing to me was based on who gave the best words for direction. But she has this super-creative, warm energy about her, and that helps an actor a lot. Also, I think it takes a great director to allow an actor to do what he wants and to have the confidence in the script and the performance that it's going to give them what they want.
There's no definition of drama or comedy in this film. It's kind of like, life is the genre. I think it's very rich because of that. Even in the most tragic situations in life, there's sometimes funny moments. The script really captures that; the dialogue Lisa and Stuart wrote is so real.