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Sundance: Annette Bening and Julianne Moore Wow the Fest With a Gay Marriage Drama

Last night, Sundance welcomed its next big hit — at exactly the right time. Lisa Chodolenko, the director of High Art and Laurel Canyon, returned with her new film The Kids Are All Right, starring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple who are unwillingly reunited with the biological father of their two teenage kids, a sperm donor played by Mark Ruffalo. So far, the deserved buzz is overwhelming. Now the only questions left are: Which distributor will acquire it? And after they do pick it up, which actress will they push for Best Actress: Moore or Bening?

Introducing the film at its surprise Monday-night premiere, fest director John Cooper worried aloud that the theater was so packed with film executives that a fire could wipe out all that's left of independent film. It wasn't an exaggeration: After the lights went down, late arrival Harvey Weinstein was still lumbering along the aisle, searching for a seat in the dark as ushers asked him to turn off his BlackBerry.

It's hard to imagine Harvey — and plenty of others — weren't writing up their bids immediately after the raucous applause died down. The film boasts a whip-smart and witty script that left the audience howling, and allows Moore and Bening to be funny like you've rarely seen them before — and it features a seductive turn by Mark Ruffalo, as an overgrown, hipster man-child.

But Bening and Moore are the real treats. Bening plays an uptight, wine-slurping doctor and Moore plays her wife, a compost-loving free spirit. They have two kids, an 18-year-old girl (Mia Wasikowska, who will soon play Alice in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland) and a 15-year-old son (Josh Hutcherson) who both reach out to the sperm donor (Ruffalo), who gave his DNA to each mother. Chodolenko shows a warm, funny side and crafts some brilliant chemistry between her two leads, who make an extraordinarily believable onscreen couple. This may turn out to be one of the most significant lesbian films yet made — especially because it's premiering in the long shadow of Prop 8. But straight marrieds will have little trouble identifying with the undermining, bitching, nagging, teasing, and reconciling, either: Lighthearted and uproariously funny, it's not at all a gay-marriage film, but just a great film about marriage. Now, back to that question: Who to push for Best Actress?

Photo: Antidote International Films, Inc.