It’s a Family Affair

Moore+Bening-Kids
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in a scene from Lisa Choldenko’s The Kids Are All Right. Photo credit: Suzanne Tenner.

I am proud to say that I was a hard sell for The Kids Are All Right, the family comedy-drama starring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore and opening in limited release on July 9th.  A mainstream film featuring a lesbian-headed family?! And the leads are among two of the finest actors working right now? With seven Oscar nominations between ‘em? Oh you betcha I’m there.  But I’m there with both expectations and hackles raised.  The attitude I bring to the movie theater approximates what you might bring to the living room in which your daughter’s prom date sits. Hopefully nervously.

Picture your kid, a sweet tender thing you’ve dedicated the last decade and a half to protecting and promoting, who deserves the best, or at least a fair shake, goddamn it.  And then there’s the date, a Usual Suspect with a history of stringing folks along and then breaking their hearts, or worse.  The sweet tender thing in this construction, though, is me and my people: lesbians, even more specifically, lesbian-headed families, and the kids in them. The prom date I’m looking askance at? Commercial Hollywood film.

I have a right to be squinty-eyed.  For most of my movie-going life, commercial Hollywood film has left me and mine either ignored along the walls surrounding the dance floor, quietly convincing ourselves of our worth despite the lack of  attention, or attended to for just a moment, only to be betrayed in the next, accidentally or even maliciously.

I will never forget sitting, or rather eventually slinking down lower and lower in my seat, in a suburban Minneapolis movie theater watching Basic Instinct in the early 1990s.  A mainstream Hollywood movie that had a lesbian in it! Plus a bisexual woman!  I had to go, and took with me my gal sweetie, a friend, and her gal sweetie.  The overwhelmingly heterosexual crowd watched placidly as blood splattered the screen in the opening scene, and then–I’m not making this up–later groaned and called out in disgust when Sharon Stone kisses her female lover.  For Michael Douglass’ benefit.  Which lover, to no one’s surprise, turns out to be a homicidal, suicidal, man-hating basket case.

Things were only a tad better in the mid-1990s romantic comedy Chasing Amy. Again, I was lured to the theater with the hopes that somehow, something resembling “our” truths would win out over “their” fantasies about us. Turned out, not so much. Ben Affleck made his big screen debut playing–surprise!–the handsome, charming guy who turns the heretofore disgruntled lesbian gal happy and straight.  I’m oversimplifying just a tad here, but not much.  I remember spending about 45 minutes after the movie trying to explain to an open-minded-yet-ignorant straight guy chum just what in the Sam Hill was wrong with all that.

Yes, there have been finer moments for us gals in mainstream film–Bound, the noir thriller with Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon springs eagerly to mind–but the disappointments have been heavy ones. Tragedy, pathology, and disposability have figured way, way too large in our film presence thus far. If we’ve been present at all.

I offer up these highlights of my theater-going past in order to help explain the squint in my eye as I entered the theater for a sneak preview of The Kids Are All Right. The good news is that, in the ten to twenty years since I slunk down in that suburban Minneapolis theater seat, interesting things have been happening to me and mine, not least of which has been that we’ve been gayby-booming big time.  That, and we’ve been winning bits and snatches of civil rights, even if we’re shoved one step back for every two steps we take forward.  And some of us–some super-smart ones at that–have been worming our ways up through film school and the film-making industry, becoming Hollywood’s best kept secret.

This, as you might have suspected, leads us directly to writer-director (and lesbian mum) Lisa Cholodenko and her new film The Kids Are All Right.  You may recall Cholodenko’s work in the creepy but compelling High Art, in which Allie Sheedy’s junkie art photographer seduces Rhada Mitchell’s ambitious magazine editor, Patricia Clarkson dripping around in the background as a tragicomic former Fassbinder actress).  Or perhaps you’ll remember the somewhat less creepy but equally naughty Laurel Canyon, in which Frances McDormand’s Los Angeles music mogul seduces the young lead singer of the band she’s producing, while her uptight son Christian Bale watches his fiancée Kate Beckinsdale slip deeper and deeper into his mother’s debauched scene.  Both are closely observed, deeply atmospheric studies of boundaries transgressed and innocents seduced.

The atmosphere is far sunnier in The Kids Are All Right, but seduction is still afoot.  The interesting question is, Who is being drawn into whose world? Annette Bening plays Nic, a high-strung, wine-swilling, bread-winning doctor; Julianne Moore plays her partner Jules, flaky and aimless, who’s taking a stab at landscape design, her third career foray. Their older daughter Joni, played by Mia Wasikowska (late of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland), hangs in that delicate, thoughtful summertime suspension between high school and college.

It’s Joni’s younger brother Laser, played by teen heartthrob Josh Hutcherson (late of Journey to the Center of the Earth), who bookends the film.  His character provides catalyst for the film’s movement, both in its breezy opening scenes as he cycles through L.A. with a skateboarding chum, and when he asks his sister–who’s of age now–to contact the man whose sperm their mothers used to conceive them.  To Cholodenko and her co-screenwriter Stuart Blumberg’s credit, the plot exposition, even around such potentially puzzling matters as identity release sperm donation, moves swiftly and clearly. (“Identity release” sperm donors are those who choose to be accessible to children conceived with their sperm upon the children’s reaching adulthood. Others are either known all along, officially or personally, or are anonymous.) At the end of the film, it’s Laser’s vision we’re left with.

Mark Ruffalo plays Paul, every lesbian’s dream/nightmare sperm donor: he’s a handsome, affable, organic veggie-growing, funky upscale restaurant-running, motorcycle-riding, magnetic dude. As in, steal away the kids’ affections magnetic.  Hi-jinx and complexity ensue when he responds to the kids’ request to meet him, goes on to meet the moms, and hires Jules to redesign his garden.

Suffice to say that, because this is a story, by definition requiring tension and conflict to exist, stuff happens.  Stuff which, because this is a story, has no obligation to be completely plausible, least of all statistically significant — it just has to be plausible enough, and work within the confines of the characters’ journeys in the film.  This is stuff which the trailer lays bare, and while it might send many folks to the movie with happy expectation (man candy! more images of Mark Ruffalo in the buff!), it will saddle others with a gnawing dread.  No disrespect to Mr. Ruffalo, who was engaging throughout, but I sympathize with that dread (if it could speak, it would be muttering from between clenched teeth, “If our first shot at a lesbian family’s mainstream film portrayal gets splatt-balled by another hetero romance I’ll scream!”).

To those of you feeling that dread gnawing at you, I say, Scream not. Wait out the movie before you alarm your fellow theater goers. Cholodenko and Blumberg are up to something interesting here. As to the rest, I say, “Get ready for plenty of Mark Ruffalo’s fuzzy nekkid body in flagrante delicto!”

I’ll step aside here to note that if you must have more plot synopsis I direct you to the many other reviews of the film  from NPR (“an adorably high-spirited romp” that “puts the fun in dysfunction”) to the Chicago Tribune (“instant classic”) to the Los Angeles Times, (“witty, urbane, and thoroughly entertaining”) to Salon.com, (“ranks with the most compelling portraits of an American marriage, regardless of sexuality, in film history”). [Added later: Also A.O. Scott at the New York Times ("nearly perfect"). Or, still later, my current fave in the MSM: the clears-the-right-intellectual-hurdles Dana Stevens in Slate ("the portrait of this couple's decades-long bond underscores the absurdity of the debate about what to call same-sex unions.") And still later: our inveterate and most astute Dana Rudolph at Mombian ("the perfect lesbian mom date movie") Now how often do you hear THAT?] I find myself  in agreement with most of them, with the sad exception of Anthony Lane’s New Yorker review, whose mis-read toward the end reveals far more about the reviewer’s blinkered vision, I fear, than the film’s heart.

I’ll further note that yet more commentary on the film’s social and political statements will follow in a future post in which I slice up and share the fruits of a media roundtable I participated in with the director and Ms. Bening. Now back to the review.

As in Bound, which took familiar noir plot elements for a lesbian spin, Kids takes familiar elements–a young woman’s coming of age and cutting the apron strings that bind, in this case two pairs of ‘em; an established couple’s relationship, sagging with neglect, rocked by the introduction of a new element; a family’s stretching and reshaping as it undergoes inevitable transformations–and breathes new life in them as they’re re-told by fresh voices.  The acting throughout is superb; even the young castmembers hold their own among towering vets like Bening and Moore.  You want to watch each of these people.  And Cholodenko lets you: she holds the camera on them just long enough so that we see the twinkle of complexity and paradox in moment after moment–and then cuts before it’s a moment too long.

The dialog crackles with wit, ringing true and revealing’ most entertainingly in Ruffalo’s Paul, who spouts a cornucopia of groovy dudeisms.  In a heart-to-heart with Laser about his bad-element friend, Paul says “That’s not  ’amped,’ that’s just being a tool.” Or, in lieu of “shut the f**k up”: “shut the front door.” In a rare and well-earned moment of communion with Nic, he reaches for her hand and says, jovially, “My brother from another mother!”

It’s a tribute to the strengths of the performances– Ms. Bening’s being by far the most riveting–that so much of the character development and plot movement happens outside of the dialog, in reaction shots. Bening is simply a joy to watch, and in one minutes’ long scene in particular, she takes Nic through a series of thoughts and feelings, first casual, then building concern, then finally shocked gravity.  Cholodenko keeps the camera close on her face, the ambient sound at a distance, then brings the sound in all warbly, as if underwater.  It’s the only self-consciously filmic moment in the movie, and it’s well-spent.  If a single scene can earn you an Oscar nomination, this one would be it for Bening in this film.

There’s lots more to enjoy about The Kids Are All Right: the infectious, über-groovy soundtrack, the disciplined attention to detail (when we first see him, Paul chomps an apple as he exits his organic garden, a guy Eve; both Nic and Jules sip their morning coffee out of “World’s Best Mom” mugs).  The laugh-out-loud humor.  During an exquisitely awkward scene, Laser asks why his moms had gay male porn (rather than lesbian porn) in their dresser drawer (it’s a long story how he got there).  Moore’s Jules begins to explain the mysteries of externalized desire in an abstract, blurry intellectual fashion, going on to say, “Anyway, with lesbian porn, usually they hire two straight women to do the scenes, and the inauthenticity–” “That’s enough!” blurts Nic, hastily interrupting.  It’s as if the screenwriters were smiling and winking at every audience member — the lesbo-cogniscenti and the along-for-the-ride visitors alike.

The main thing to enjoy about this film, though, is the love of people in it:  all the people, even the cads. I went twice, which helped, since my appreciation, like the wine Nic knocks back throughout the film, became deeper and more nuanced over time.  The first time I saw it was several weeks ago with an old friend, the second time was last night with my old partner; we’ll be together 16 years this month.  She laughed out loud throughout the first hour-plus, and then for the last twenty minutes held my hand in a vice grip as she dabbed at her eyes and sniffled.  We have two kids, after all,  closely resembling those in the film.  Give or take a decade or so. What we saw up on the screen was something we’re utterly unaccustomed to seeing there: not just something nearer to our relationship and our family than we’ve ever seen, but the reflection back of something deeper.  The simple fact we know to be true: our kids are all right. So are we all.

[cross-posted at BlogHer]

27 Responses to It’s a Family Affair

  1. directorgrrl July 8, 2010 at #

    whoa whoa whoa!
    rachel in a headscarf, what did she write??

    “share the fruits of a media roundtable I participated in with the director and Ms. Bening.”

    OMG.
    good lord share the deets of THAT woncha?

    good lord!

    very truly yours
    jealousy green

    • Lesbian Dad July 8, 2010 at #

      You read right, madam, and I am happy to provide this teaser: I took the opportunity to quip to Ms. Bening, “I believe you played me in the movie.” I am also happy to report that she has a sophisticated sense of humor, what with the fact that she chuckled at the quip.

      Made Annette Bening chuckle. Added to my short but much beloved list of life accomplishments.

  2. Vikki July 9, 2010 at #

    I can’t wait to see this movie. As a lesbian mom who has been in a relationship for a LONG time (17 years to be exact), I have seen my life reflected in the previews alone. I have never…in my whole life…been able to say that before.

    • Lesbian Dad July 9, 2010 at #

      Vikki, it was an amazing thing — like Rip Van Winkle awakening after X years, or whatever — to walk around in my life in the first days following the film, having my ordinary old couple life (my old couple with my woman partner and we’re raising kids life), and have moments in the film recollected by some moment or another. I thought: Jesus Christ. Is this what straight people feel? The whole self-aggrandizement via fantasy self-representation by handsome people on a big screen thing? It is truly amazing to consider, especially at the ripe old age of 40 *cough cough*. The only analog I had for this was the first six months after marriage equality was established in California. Walking the streets thinking, “I don’t care what you think about me, the state recognizes the validity of my family make-up.” Fresh entitlement there, novel representation on the screen. Both, after essentially zero before that, take the breath away.

  3. Weezus July 9, 2010 at #

    LD, thanks so much for this review. Even though I’ve enjoyed all of Lisa C’s movies, ever since I saw the trailer I’ve swung between poles of “WOOT!” and “Oh, this could be so bad ….” It’s one thing for the movie to get a great review from EW or NYT but it’s another to have the LD stamp of approval that it’s not going to be highly cringe-worthy.

    I will look forward to it arriving in the 510, getting a sitter for the two boys, spiffing up with the spouse and going to a theater where we’ll see lots of other parents just like us.

    R,

    • Lesbian Dad July 9, 2010 at #

      Thank you for that, Weezus. I was totally where you were with the cringe. In a later piece (or later ones, plural: it’s a long, unfolding story really) we can all chat more about the challenges of representation. There are SO! FEW! STORIES! about us out in the mainstream. Like, basically one or two. We kill folks, kill ourselves, or are sitting ducks waiting for the right, well… the right. Heck this is a family blog. The right DELIVERY MECHANISM to correct our errant ways.

      That, er, delivery mechanism, as we all well know, has owned and controlled the means of production for the entire history of the production of Western Culture (in the big picture), and the entertainment industry (in the more recent, 100 yrs’ picture). Shari Lansing and Kathryn Bigelow notwithstanding. (I BLAME THE PATRIARCHY!) And since both gay men and lesbians appear, to the wrong mentality, to be rebuffs to that, er, delivery mechanism (DUH! not rebuffs, dude! can’t we all just be FRIENDS?!!!), then fuller spectrum representation of us and our lives is, well, something between uneccessary and threatening.

      All of which to say: there’s that one story line just sitting there, like an enormous RUT in the road, and here we are on our sweet little bikes trying to navigate it, hey! but someone else is steering the bike! and no wonder we’re petrified the fricking tires are going to slide right down into that damn rut YET AGAIN.

      About this film, and that rut, all’s I say is just ride it out. See where it takes us all. I think (and I’ll try to expand on this more in a future post, and invite more chit-chat on it) Chodolenko and Blumberg were aware of that rut, thoughtful about what it means to all of us, and interested in also telling a story in a post-rut social space. Partly by treating it in a different way (rather than pretending it’s not there). If that makes sense.

  4. Weezus July 9, 2010 at #

    Thanks LD. ;) Actually, since I wrote my post here I read the review in Autostraddle and got a better sense of how DEEP that rut is in the movie (I so hope we’re talking in the same code ;) and I’m back to being a little nervous but I’m taking deep breaths and I’m still going to ride it out. Thanks for the encouragement. And yes, part of the issue is that there are, as you put it, so! few! stories! It becomes a matter of discipline to remember that rather than go ’round and ’round about one movie.

    R.

    • Lesbian Dad July 9, 2010 at #

      Okay now I’m off to read the Autostraddle review. And comment thereafter. Ride the rut, I say. And without giving away too much (that’ll be for the longer, let’s talk about the politics piece, I have two words: TROJAN. HORSE. That plotline is the trojan horse that gets the movie into a ton of people’s brains, and I sure do want the movie in people’s brains. When you drink in the last scene in the movie, you want it there, too. Sez me.

  5. hatched by two chicks July 9, 2010 at #

    This is one of those times when I think you are way too smart to not be writing from a larger platform. Don’t get me wrong, I love this blog so much. But you are just so good and what you have to say is so incredibly important and you say it so incredibly well. I would just love to see you writing for a national syndicate.

    • Lesbian Dad July 9, 2010 at #

      Girl, call my agent!

      Better yet, BE my agent!

      And then hand my beloved a cocktail, because she’s been working her fine ass off way too much lately.

      Also, thank you. I would like nothing more (NOW THAT BOY CHILD IS TWO FULL AND SAFE WEEKS INTO PRESCHOOL, THANKYOUVERY MUCH AND IN ALL CAPS) than to be writing for a national syndicate. The gals at BlogHer rock, and I am internally indebted to them for a shot at their network. I love ‘em. And I’d love also to be out and about more, working for pay online and in print, such as it still is. I’ll freely take any tips, advice, leads and more, helping me get there.

      And thank you again. :)

  6. rev2bebt July 9, 2010 at #

    I agree with Weezus – having heard bits and pieces about the movie on NPR (although I seem to have missed the review you quoted), I was hesitant. First of all, the most recent and in-depth interview talked about having the kids find their “anonymous” sperm donor, which took it into the realm of the “oh, the hetero film industry bungles it again” in my head. That, plus being the non-bio mum of a not-quite-one-year-old… yeah, I’m not ready to think of “finding the daddy”. (I’m still in the realm of explaining that my kid doesn’t have a daddy.) So thank you, LD, for relieving these fears and making me think seriously about getting a sitter and driving the hour-plus into Boston to see this one.

    And, for the record, Hatched by Two Chicks has it completely right. I blog, but you WRITE. And beautifully.

    • Lesbian Dad July 9, 2010 at #

      Very kind of you. Thank you. It’s a complex issue — the subplot & why Cholodenko went there — but I think I see why she did & I’m ultimately appreciative. Clearly, from what I’m gathering, it’ll continue to be an interesting conversation.

  7. Strauss July 10, 2010 at #

    I got scared when I read this review. http://essin-em.com/2010/07/maybe-the-kids-arent-all-right/
    I’d love to read your thoughts on Shana’s concerns.

  8. Lesbian Dad July 10, 2010 at #

    Thank you for that link, Strauss. Read it right up, and was happy to see our gal alphafemme there. (Go hence and read, folks, with the advance word that she delves into the plot details to explore the point, and therefore spoilers a bit. With warning in advance.)

    I’m definitely going to fire us up a post which I’ll make clickable-to-openable so that folks who want to wait & see the film first can do that before getting the decidedly complex tangle of issues laid out for them. Also, advance apologies for zig-zagging around here and being repetitive. Riffing.

    But: I agree with every concern Shana expresses. Not a one of them rang untrue to me regarding representations of bi women, existing stereotypes of lesbians in relationship, etc. My angle on them is this: these images and stereotypes are abetted by the movie if one looks at it from a distance, in broad strokes. Closer up, I (personally) believe the characters are so carefully drawn and so well-acted that what seems at a distance to be a disturbing alignment with existing stereotypes is, at close range, full, complex human beings acting like themselves. Which includes messed up sometimes.

    I’ll also grant that the enormous fatigue we all feel at being over being so chronically, severely under- and mis-represented makes us impossibly impatient about the piecemeal process of re-representation, and saddles every image from within our own community with a near-impossible task. Or at least impossible within the confines of one object, here, one film. And we’re well aware of the number of viewers who will only be able to see these characterizations from a distance and via their alignment with problematic tropes, etc. I suppose this is speculation regarding the film’s impact on people outside the queer community who draw their limited understanding of who we are from the handful of pop cultural images available to them, most of which non-queers (until relatively recently) have produced. But it’s also true that many folks within LGBT community are capable of reinforcing some of them as well — particularly, as Shana talks about, the femme- and bi-phobic stuff around femme and/or bi women being untrustworthy and ever adultery-ready. There’s not a whole lot one can say (to me at least, or that I’ve heard/imagined yet) about this film that can deny that element of its impact. And that’s certainly a big fat problem.

    But on the other hand. To regard the severe limitations of an uninformed or stereotype-driven straight viewer as the proverbial “third rail” not to be approached leaves artists in constraints which I believe hamper the art production process. Also, it leaves untouchable some characterizations which are either compelling to the artist and, as it happens, not totally implausible or unrealistic. For instance: er, I would probably be matching Nic wine glass for wine glass, and if we were set next to each other, by comparison she would look femmier than like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. So some of those concerns Shana articulated, well dang. How can you move, right? If a wine sipping butchy/androgene Bening character will reinforce some stereotypes, hell’s bells. That’s me, just a femmy, skinnier version of me (oh, and with WAY more income and WAY more control issues), and I was glad to have her up there, as femmy as she seemed to me. There are multiple ways out of stereotypes, and a main one is to simply pump more and more fleshed-out, complex imagery into the spaces next to them. Hopefully trying to be both aware of and not utterly commanded by them. A tricky line to walk, indeed, and impossible to walk in a way that will make all of us content simultaneously. The questions many of us are asking about this particular movie have to do with its net impact on those stereotypes and distortions. Knowing that it’s inevitable that it’s a minefield.

    There are multiple vantage points from which to view this movie, and when the vantage point is — as it should be, to be complete — the history of the representations of queer women in film, there are disturbing parallels. Also, when one tries to approximate the less informed vantage point of folks outside our community, these problems are exacerbated.

    Interestingly, there are also other concerns that are way outside those, too. Like, at one screening I went to, one (I’ll presume straight) man’s primary concern was the Lack of a Father one. That one’s huge for a lot of straight men and women, vis-a-vis lesbian parenting. The presumptive connection between biology and family ties, the existing understandings around the sources of gender role modeling, all these hide-bound family definitions are extremely powerful, and plenty of people will be stuck there more than anywhere else. If this guy was paying much attention to the Jules character’s sexual self-identification or practices, it certainly figured smaller that the family issues for him.* [SPOILERISH ELABORATION @ THE BOTTOM IN SMALL LIGHT FONT AT THE END OF THIS COMMENT AT THE ASTERISK!]

    So I do think it helps to bear in mind (not to the exclusion of our concerns, of course, but to simply remember) that the other “other” concern around this film will be — and has been already evident, even in the comment stream on a Salon.com article on it — a simplistic “lesbians having kids is wrong wrong wrong” one. The sympathetic portrayal of this family — and it’s indubitably sympathetic, and from the viewpoint of a lesbian woman in such a family, albeit one totally willing to ruffle fur in numerous directions — will be enough for a whole raft of viewers (the always-already LGBT-phobic) to condemn it.

    So while I concur with a lot of Shana’s concerns (which echo those of a ton of us), by now (as I said in a comment on one of the pieces on this at < http://autostraddle.com>Autostraddle) my own political/tactical interests lie in the work with the so-called “moveable middle.” Basically, the 10-15% of California voters whom we might have been able to sway, given more time and NOT a political campaign, who let their fears and the Prop 8 lies get the better of them. Given this as my own personal value (it’s all tactical, all pragmatic), I think Cholodenko’s (and Blumberg’s) movie ultimately does something more worthwhile than not. To me, it manages to tell a story that by and large, or sufficiently, works. (Caveat/clarification: I found the Jules’ characters motivations underdeveloped, and would have bought the affair more had they been a hair better substantiated; I know Cholodenko was far more interested in developing the Nic character, and it shows. And not just in Nic’s basically wearing Cholodenko’s glasses. See above (Nic), and here (director LC, as from an Autostraddle piece on the film and its malcontents).)

    Ultimately, the strengths of the film, for me, outweigh these weaknesses. And I suppose I’ll grant that every art object about an underrepresented people will be riddled with weaknesses, since we are painted into a small box to begin with. One strength that’s not part of this debate entails the authenticity of the kids’ characters. While all of them has said they’d have involved their parents in the process of contacting the donor, every young adult child of LGBT parents I’ve heard talk about the movie (mostly COLAGE folk, whom I take to be a hella savvy bunch) said the Joni character’s explosion towards the end, about the pressures of trying to be perfect enough for her parents so as to create the “perfect lesbian family,” was not just right-on but phenomenal and unprecedentedly affirming to see on the big screen. That has definitely had a very important, instructive impact on me. I’ve stood to learn something from this movie (not just enjoy/critique it); stood to benefit from thinking about my kids’ experiences from a new angle. So again that’s a benefit from this, embedded in what are undeniably problematic elements.

    And all along I’m thinking that many of us in the LGBT community will be seeing in and gathering from this film various (quite different) things. Hopefully we’ll be able to see each other’s vantage points. And my guess is our tolerance of some elements will be dependent on how much we get from the others. As a parent who wants that 10-15% of the “moveable middle” to move, and who was so frigging grateful to see a family that resembled mine on screen, I was willing to wince (and lord knows I did) through the Jules-Paul subplot. Ultimately, the direction that plot took was vindicating enough for me. It might not be for others, but it definitely was for me. The whole of the film was ultimately greater than the sum of its various parts.

    More on all of this I’m sure!


    * Though at one point, in a conversation with Paul, she summarily dismisses his dreamy thoughts of their actually getting together with “What?! No! I’m gay!” Practice and self-identification here being not so monolithically aligned. She had already earlier summarily dismissed him with “I’m married” and “I love Nic and my family.” So as is evident here, the Paul character is, as anything more than object choice/ weapon of choice detour, summarily dismissed. More thoughts on that: Jules and Paul basically mess up something for the whole family, since a positive relationship with him was something both the kids welcomed.

  9. Lesbian Dad July 10, 2010 at #

    Can I possibly add yet more to the above? Er, whether or not I should, I will.

    Main point (woah! spoilery! so how ’bout I make it in tiny light font):

    It’s my determined belief that the whole Jules-Paul sub-plot exists to show it as folly, as, more than anything else — if you’re willing to extend a little symbolism at work here, and hello, Cholodenko is a film school intellectual even if she set out to make something broadly commercially viable — a representation of hetero fantasies about us. Which, in the end, are just that: fantasies. When that’s the message (which I think it is, more strongly than the “every gal wants/ needs a mens”), I’m okay with it. I offer as exhibit (A) Anthony Lane’s hetero man’s lament at the end of his review (here) as indication that the take home, for many some straight men, will be the shame and the ostracizing, and not the bisexall or lesbo poontang, and what it (or what using it as a shortcut to a man for a moment to satisfy some tangential emotional need) means about who we really are. To put it indelicately.

    Last last point (for the next 15 min.): what about the hetero GALS who’d be drawn to the movie? Which, I think it’s safe to say, are the ones the Mark Ruffalo character was inserted (d’oh!) to appeal to. (I will not drone on about the unconscious self-inflicted sexism entailed in the critiques that overlook the straight women audience for this film, but instead remind us: CHICKFLICK CHICKFLICK CHICKFLICK, this film screams out CHICKFLICK, people!) They, I’d argue (and and polling more or less reflects this) are the likliest portion of the nearest 10-15% of the “moveable middle” we need to get at. S’fine by me if they get some fuzzy Mark Ruffalo for a while. I’d a rather it have been with his hottie sometime GF from the restaurant, true enough. But that would have de-centered the work within the two women at the center of the film. And frankly? Made it less provocative. If you haven’t seen them already, go and rent High Art and Laurel Canyon and report back whether you think Cholodenko eschews, or is drawn to, provocative.

  10. annz July 10, 2010 at #

    So glad you are commenting here, and on other sites about this sub-plot.

    It’s a little depressing how quick some are to dismiss the whole movie because of what they have read about this issue, when in fact, I thought that Paul was always, and ends up decidedly, OUTSIDE the family. [Is this a spoiler?] One of the most engaging things about his character is how much he wants to be inside not just any family, but that specific family, and not because he had a role in its creation (I think), but because of who they all are.

    Interesting to see how it all plays out, but I really hope people will see the movie, not write it off ahead of time based on this issue alone.

    • Lesbian Dad July 10, 2010 at #

      So glad you commented. I was fairly convinced I was yelling at myself here (did that stop me? hail no). Though of course it is a Saturday afternoon and many folk are out and about DOING things.
      :)

  11. Weezus July 11, 2010 at #

    :wave: I am here. And I’m skimming with one eye closed because I want to see the movie and I don’t want to completely know all of it in advance. Which is deeply frustrating because I’d love to chat about it ….. but need to see it first. And it hasn’t come to the 510 yet.

    • Lesbian Dad July 11, 2010 at #

      :) !

      I’ll try and be disciplined and wait to rev up some click-to-enter post jobbie for the rest of the chat. Most of the most feverish conversation is elsewhere, where (ironically!) fewer lesbian parents dwell. I could be wrong about that (hell, I ALWAYS could be wrong; ask The Mrs). But it’s quite interesting to me what has been drawing the attention.

      Daggone, get a winkie in the room (*cough*) and all eyes are on it, seems to be the sad conclusion here, even within our own community. When I first saw the film and the launch of that subplot, I winced, and then, as the plot progressed and consumated itself, realized: oh. Right. Ploy. Got it.

      [added later:] Not to dismiss the worries. Or even some folks conclusions, after seeing the movie. I just really see so much in the film and its import and who it’s getting to think about what, that I put that winkie and its funciton in the plot into proper perspective. Which winds up minimizing it quite a bit.

  12. theredbaron July 12, 2010 at #

    Well, my wife and I schlepped to Hollywood to see the movie today (Saturday) and enjoyed it. In terms of “target audience”, I was pleased that the moviegoers seemed evenly split between lesbian couples and straight couples who seemed to enjoy it equally. The things that bothered me most about the movie were general interpersonal things (i.e. not because they were lesbians). The fact that there didn’t seem to be much of an internal struggle by Jules about the “rut” (double-entendre intended) when it occurred didn’t ring true to me. But the occurrence of it fit, I think, with the overall arc of her story in her relationship with Nic. I also sense there were a lot of details that I missed that a second viewing would help (reading some of the reviews I was thinking “huh?” at criticism of parts I didn’t even notice – and I normally notice a lot of details). It was nice that it didn’t seem to be one long lesbian cliché — what was there didn’t seem terribly out of place. In any case, it was nice to see something that came across as a mainstream movie that wasn’t pandering to horny guys. It had very good moments; it had some mediocre moments, but in the way that any good movie does. And, hey, it was a nice “date day” activity!

  13. susan July 13, 2010 at #

    We haven’t been to a movie together since the (now 8 year old) girl was in diapers. Sounds like it’s time for a date night soon–at which point I will scrutinize the comment thread here more closely for that light print discussion.

    In the meantime, am waiting on more Annette Benning stories!

    • Lesbian Dad July 13, 2010 at #

      (1) Good god, woman, get thee to a movie! Any movie! Even an Adam Sandler vehicle! Wait, no. Okay, be more discriminating. But if you haven’t been to one in 8 yrs, then this one would surely give you your money’s worth of intriguing, rich post-movie chit-chat.

      (2) I got childcare tomorrow AM! I will try try try to transcribe & write up. Unfortunately I can’t get my 3 yr old to operate the digital voice recorder for me and the 5 yr old refuses to touch-type, so I’m stuck having to do it myself on my own time.

  14. eliza July 17, 2010 at #

    I finally got to read through the comments with both eyes open (was doing as Weezus did) after hitting the 5 pm showing two blocks from my office this afternoon [so I'm not holding back from discussing; spoilers below]. Thanks so much for the positive review. After being initially excited and then wincing in shock and resignation while watching the trailer, I was glad to have the go-ahead to check it out without my shields up.

    I think you’re absolutely right about the characters’ well-written and well-acted complexity being the things that makes the movie work, and I agree that we didn’t get enough background on why Jules felt so alone, so unappreciated. Still, anyone who has been in a family can probably fill in the blanks. Also, Paul was made out to be a sexy womanizer who didn’t really think twice about long-term consequences, something that left him outside alone in the end (as men like that so rarely are in movies, a welcome outcome in itself). I, too, wish he had been “better,” as Joni says, but as the reviewer in my local paper wrote, “the movie never surmounts its distrust of him.” I’m okay with that. It’s not about him. It’s about the family.

    Something about this movie means so much to me, and I can’t quite figure it out. I’m a woman, married to a man, not planning on raising children. And I was raised by straight parents. But I have a queer identity, bisexual I guess it would be called, though I always have preferred to simply say I’m not a gender discriminator. Still, it’s not the possible bisexuality of one of the characters that makes me so glad for this movie (sex is no fun when somebody’s heart is getting hurt because of it). I just want to take certain of my own family members and co-workers down to the cinema and say “See? It’s fine. It’s normal. It’s family. Those kids are way more than all right. No more voting against love.” I feel bolstered by the visibility.

    The crux of the local-paper review amounts to, “eh, like that other movie last summer, but entertaining nonetheless.” And my response to that assessment vacillates between, “How can you say that? It’s a lesbian family! And that’s only kind of the main point but not really and that in itself is so different!” and “Yes! Calling this same old same old means we are winning” (moving the 10-15%, if you will).

    I’m desperate for love to win, and I think in the end, that’s what the film is about, just like that’s what this website is about. Love is not a thing to have or to hold, but an action to take, over and over again. I learned once (and I may be remembering incorrectly) that Confucianism demands of people to understand their identity as it relates to others. I am daughter, wife, aunt, colleague, etc., but nothing by myself. LD, it breaks my heart that some people would deny your family the right to call itself such. There is already enough sadness in basic human failing and weakness (as the movie shows so well). Why not embrace people loving wherever they can be found taking that most profound and necessary action?

    Thank you for sharing your real-life family with all of us, and as others have noted, for being such a true and vivid and honest writer. The Kids are All Right has big names and big budgets and big screens, but it’s got nothing on Lesbian Dad when it comes to family portraits, social commentary, and gorgeous, poignant imagery.

  15. directorgrrl July 17, 2010 at #

    wow it’s like being in school, reading these (especially your) comments!
    love it!
    saw the movie yesterday and have not read the links you refer to but can imagine the response some of our community had to the weenus question, the essential nay sayers of anything except what they deem acceptable and politically correct.
    those arguments make me feel tired.
    and as an artist they make me angry
    and as a lesbian artist they make me feel like that ‘audience’ is behind the times culturally.
    and difficult to make art for.
    imagine that! a sector of an audience of my peers who would limit my expression.
    there is more to say, but mostly i feel there is SO much more to create.
    and this movie is incredibly inspiring on that front.
    smart, well directed, superbly acted.
    YAY>

  16. alphafemme July 22, 2010 at #

    Just wanted to chime in here and say that your review made me decide to see it after all. I’d been on the fence, and then Shanna’s review made me decide not to see it (I call it the “Chasing Amy effect” in which I refuse to subject myself to anything that I suspect will leave the Chasing-Amy-aftertaste in my mouth). And then yours made me decide to see it after all, because I *so* trust your discerning opinion. I’m still a bit wary, to be sure, but I think I’ll trust that it won’t taste like Chasing Amy :)

  17. Lesbian Dad July 22, 2010 at #

    Thank you for giving it a try. Definitely NOT Chasing Amy. My current, best analogy is: if you cringed reading Native Son, or found it impossible to trust Richard Wright, you might cringe at or fail to summon sufficient trust in this film? Maybe? But maybe not. If you appreciated the challenge of what Wright was up to with that pillar of 20th century American literature, then you’ll probably appreciate what Lisa Cholodenko is up to with Kids.

    In my opinion, it’s a fine piece of work by a fine, (happens to be lesbian, parent) writer-director. About the complexities in a mature lesbian relationship. And, I hasten to say, THE KIDS IN THE FAMILY THEY MADE. To whom the affair is an offense, primarily on terms of its being an affair, period. Their investment is in their family remaining intact as a family, rather than the sexual self-identification of one of their moms remaining fixed in place. Which of course [SPOILER!], as all know by now, it actually does. Remain fixed, that is. Her self-identification.

    I appreciate the trust, or even the suspension of disbelief, that you’re extending the film. It seems to me as if Cholodenko extended some trust as well: that (enough of) the viewing audience would meet it with the same thoughtfulness she put into it.

    I gather some perspective from the fact that homophobes are incensed at the sympathetic portrayal. Andrea Peyser, reviewing it in the New York Post a week ago (here’s a GLAAD piece on this review), said that Kids is:

    …sort of a cross between “Leave it to Beaver” and “Kittens With Whips.” Choose your lifestyle wisely, moviegoers. For this film is set to go down in history as the first major motion picture to make a family led by gay women — A-lister Annette Bening, as the control-freak doctor Nic, “wed” to A-lister Julianne Moore, as the weepy, infantilized Jules — seem not just normal, but close to godly.

    It reaches further than the gay-cowboy romp “Brokeback Mountain,” whose characters maintained a sense of otherness while shielding the kids from their shenanigans. In this movie, exposing kids is the entire point.

    And this is how Hollywood does an end run around morality.

    So there we go. That kind of response to this film is as critical a part of our conversation as are the valid concerns about the treatment and proper (enlightened, artistically spacious) dismantling of wrongful stereotypes about women’s complex sexual identities.

  18. ShannonR July 29, 2010 at #

    I absolutely love your thoughtful take on the movie. My partner and I went to see it with a “newly dating” couple. We have been together 13 years and have three kids….they had been together two weeks. They hated the movie for the exact reason that many lesbians are jumping on the hate-wagon. My partner and I, on the other hand, loved it. We saw so much of own relationship onscreen for the first time…ever. So many of the struggles and complexities that are present in a long-term relationship were presented in the movie. The characters seemed less like caricatures than any lesbians I have seen portrayed in movies in the past. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Despite initially balking at the affair, I was able to overlook it in my excitement over seeing “real”, well-developed, well-acted, intelligent, funny, flawed, lesbian MOMS on the big screen.

    And when the heck did Annette Bening get so damn hot?!

Leave a Reply