It’s funny how movies get lumped together. Just before seeing Lisa Cholodenko’s new film THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, I overhead a friend recommending it to his skeptical mother by saying “No, really it’s good. It’s not another GREENBERG.” Meaning, I suppose, that like GREENBERG it stars the ponderous middle-aged bourgeoisie in a film that is essentially composed of a series of conversations. Unlike GREENBERG, however, the conversations in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT actually seem to accomplish something. And as an added bonus we aren’t stuck for a whole film with one small, angry man but with an entire nuclear family, off-balance though they may be.

Thanks to Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who donated sperm for money back in his teens, Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic ( Annette Bening) are moms to college bound Joni and her younger brother, the inexplicably named Laser. While there may not be an official ‘dad,’ the family is otherwise pretty normal. The kids are slightly rebellious but mostly obedient and though the moms jokingly quibble at the dinner table over what are probably deeply buried relationship issues (“Watch you wine,” “The same goes for your micromanaging.”), it’s clear they love each other. But their relationship is put to the test when their children contact Paul, who unwittingly steps into the role of the long absent father figure, no matter how loudly his motorcycle, leather jacket, unbuttoned shirts and casual sex life scream Bachelor with a capital B. But no matter how self consciously hip he is, he’s a softy at heart and warmly embraces his new role.

The moms, on the other hand, aren’t as thrilled about it. All those small marital problems that were so carefully swept under the rug are brought into the light now that an intruder, an “interloper,” as Nic calls him, has entered into their midst. Paul, Nic and Jules could’t be less prepared for the changes their lives are about to take, and what ensues is a series of conversations in a variety of locations (Nic and Jules’ kitchen and backyard, Paul’s kitchen, Paul’s backyard), but as I said earlier, these conversations – many of which devolve into very human, petty bickering and pointless, circular arguments – actually lead somewhere.

The conversations in and of themselves are microorganisms, but on a macro level we can see they are the building blocks of the changing relationships between the 5 characters. At the end, no one is where they were when we first began. Yes, Paul is still running a restaurant and Nic and Jules are holding hands in their car, smiling at their children in the rearview mirror, but everyone had to change and grow in order to get there. Ironically, the people who seem to have matured the most are the adults, which is maybe why the title is so appropriate. The kids were all right to begin with; it’s the adults that needed a lesson.