My biggest pet peeve, in life and in movies, is falseness. If I don’t believe it, then you’ve lost me. Or, worse, if you try to put something over on me, I will actively rebel.
This is me actively rebelling.
The Kids Are All Right is one of the best-reviewed movies of the year so far. It has a 93% approval rating on rottentomatoes.com, the film review site that generates scores for movies based on the number of positive or negative reviews from both top critics and average Joe reviewers. For comparison’s sake, last year’s Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker, had a Rotten Tomatoes score of 97%. So 93% is pretty good. Generally, anything garnering in the 90th percentile usually gets you a spot in the Best Picture race.
I should be happy. The Kids Are All Right is a nice and well-made movie about lesbians. With stars Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, two Oscar nominees, it qualifies, even though it’s independently made, as a mainstream movie. Much like Brokeback Mountain, people will hold up The Kids Are All Right as another step in the right direction for Hollywood to represent the most under-represented group on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong, there are “gay” movies out there, but they are generally marginalized and labeled “gay movie” and usually only see the light of day at Outfest or go direct to DVD for the niche crowd. Any of you straight folks ever heard of Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss or The Adventures of Two Girls in Love? Didn’t think so.
So now, we get a warm, wonderful and funny story of a longtime lesbian couple who have been raising their two children, happily and normally, for 18 (or more) years. Into their life comes the man who served as their sperm donor, sought out by the couples’ son because he wants to meet the man who is his biological father. The donor’s arrival into their perfect suburban Los Angeles life throws everything awry, as this new figure’s presence—and his unique relationship to everyone in the family–causes dramatic and sometimes funny situations that never of them would have ever expected.
Sounds good, right? I mean, what more could I ask for? The film portrays a happy and stable lesbian couple who have two teenage children who have grown up just fine and neither of whom have any problem with and show no ill effects from having been raised by two women. And it stars two A-list actresses—with 7 Oscar nominations between them—which guarantees it an audience and critical looks. This is what we want, right? Honest portrayals of gay people, just living their lives, having problems like the rest of us, doing and experiencing all the things that straight people do and experience. There are no serial killers here, no self-loathing suicidals, and not a single flaming queen sidekick/best friend or frumpy depressed old maid in sight.
Which is why I am so angry. After falseness, I hate wasted potential even more.
The Kids Are All Right cheats, takes the easy way out, and undermines everything it initially sets out to be.
[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen The Kids Are All Right yet and plan to, stop reading]
This film’s great potential is in the fact that it really is a good film. Besides starring Annette Bening—who delivers possibly the finest performance of her career—and Julianne Moore, it also stars the absolutely wonderful and until-now little known Mark Ruffalo. The actors who play the teenage children are also very good, even Mia Wasikowska, who I absolutely hated in Alice in Wonderland. The set-up for this movie is wonderfully thought-out and realistic. It is very common for lesbian couples who have children to use the same donor for all their children, and the premise here is perfect and unique. I was so looking forward to seeing the drama and human dynamics play out as this strange figure with an unfathomably common link to all four members of the family comes in and upsets the apple cart.
But, instead of it being a movie about these very bright, well-adjusted and naturally curious kids meeting their biological father and the potentially deep and meaningful effect it could have on them, The Kids Are All Right becomes a movie about a lesbian being attracted to a man.
What, you say? I thought this was a movie about a lesbian couple that has been together for 18+ years? One of them, all of a sudden, out of the blue, is now attracted to this man and sleeps with him? Over and over again?
Yes, folks, this is what Hollywood thinks of lesbians.
Now, I understand the set-up here. Bening and Moore’s characters, Nic and Jules, have been having some issues. I can understand, after being together for so long, that there could be the temptation, once in a while, to cheat, and it makes for great dramatic storytelling and inserts conflict into a story that needs to keep an audience emotionally involved. But, in the real world, not Hollywood’s fantasy world, this character would never have an affair with a man. There has been nothing established about her past or her character to indicate that she even has bisexual leanings or tendencies. It comes completely out of left field, for no other purpose than to appeal to the majority, those who believe that human sexuality will always naturally tend towards the heterosexual.
This movie made me just as mad as Chasing Amy, a film about a lesbian who, at the end, chooses the man (of course). And that wasn’t even a good movie! And that’s what depresses me the most. The Kids Are All Right is a good movie. Everyone’s performances are top-notch, the script is funny and heartfelt and the pace is perfect. But what pressure did director/writer Lisa Cholodenko (a lesbian) get to make this movie the most palatable to mainstream audiences? Did she really think that this plot twist would be the only way to inject the proper amount of drama into this film? It ends up being all about the affair and never goes back to the relationship between the children and this man they just met who is their biological father. This should have been (and could have been) a movie about two kids wanting to know where they came from and getting to know this man whose genes are flowing through them. Or, even better, and even more hopeful, this could have been a realistic portrayal of a family we are not used to seeing, a couple who is just as real as any other couple, but who happen to be two women. Instead, The Kids Are All Right turns out to be another Hollywood cop-out and demeans everything it pretends to be.
When there have been 100 mainstream movies portraying gay people leading their lives as the rest of us do, not marginalized or stereotyped or made to be pathetic or sinister, then I will accept The Kids Are All Right as a fine, if flawed, film.
Until then, I will keep rebelling.