Paul (Mark Ruffalo) is cool. He wears lots of leather necklaces and rides a motorcycle. He says “Right on” and means it. An organic farmer and restaurant owner, Paul is that almost infuriating kind of sexy that requires no effort, just supreme self-confidence and a smile. Joni likes him instantly; Laser isn’t so sure. I suspect that reflects the initial effect Paul has on women and men, almost universally.
The kids intend to keep their meeting with Paul a secret, but Nic and Jules find out. They insist on meeting him. And thus the carefully built universe that has been their lives spins dangerously off its axis.
You see, all families — no matter how close — are vulnerable. The cracks that exist in a marriage can become chasms overnight. Nic and Jules’ marriage isn’t perfect. Nic works too much and loves her red wine even more. Jules feels unfocused and unfocused on.
Cholodenko’s script (co-written with Stuart Blumberg) makes Nic and Jules familiar enough to feel real, yet individual enough to feel new. You may know a couple like them, but not exactly like them. Their quirks are their own. They’re the couple who call each other “Pony” and “Chicken” when no one is looking. And they pop in a little ’70s gay male porn when they’re sure no one is looking.
When their porn predilections are discovered unwittingly by Laser, Jules explains: “Sometimes desire can be counterintuitive.”
[SPOILER ALERT: Key plot points are about to be discussed. Most have already been revealed in the trailer, but if you’re really worried, skip to the last two paragraphs.]
Which is where all the trouble begins. Because much as Joni and then Laser are charmed by Paul, Jules is too, if not more. After an awkward, halting first family meeting, Paul hires Jules to landscape his new backyard. He is her first client, so she jumps in with brand-new gardening togs and nervous eagerness.
Everything she does in the garden for Paul is great. Meanwhile, at home she can’t keep Nic’s attention long enough to finish a bath. So Jules starts sleeping with Paul.