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The Kids Are All Right: Movie Review

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Kids All RightWarning: Spoilers and X-Rated Material Ahead

Of course the kids are all right. I always knew they would be. Some people were wringing their hands, fretting about how children raised by gay couples might turn out, but I never thought they’d have it any worse than kids from other family configurations – then again, I don’t worship at the altar of the nuclear family. Besides, unlike straight couples who just assume they’ll have children, those living outside the norm are forced to think long and hard before jumping into parenthood; in fact, they don’t “jump” at all – they sometimes go through hell and high water just to become parents. And once they do have kids, they tend to be fairly conscientious raising them. I’m not idealizing gay parents or saying they’re better at it; it’s just that living outside the mainstream in any way whatsoever forces people to deal with a host of issues that heterosexuals never have to think about.


Surprisingly, however, the film’s title is hardly the point. It turns out to be not so much about kids raised by lesbians, but rather about love and family and betrayal, and all the complexities in long-term relationships. It’s about sexuality and sexual identity and the longing for connection. That the kids are all right is almost incidental.

Eighteen-year-old Joni, named for Joni Mitchell and played by Mia Wasikowska, has the riveting looks of Claire Danes; she also happens to resemble someone I know, and I could hardly take my eyes off her. Which is quite a feat when you consider that Annette Benning and Julianne Moore, both knockouts, play the mothers. Their gorgeous looks are underplayed: if they were wearing any makeup in this movie, it was to highlight sags and wrinkles. When Moore’s character dons her gardening gear, she comes off looking like a middle-aged Annie Hall wannabe.Kids All Right

The plot is set in motion when 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson) convinces his sister to find their donor, the man whose sperm contributed to their existence, since he’s too young, by law, to get the information himself. Joni, afraid of hurting their mothers, is reluctant, but when she meets Papa Sperm (Mark Ruffalo), she just about falls in love with him. So does everyone else in the family, with the exception of Mama Benning, whose fear of rocking the boat turns out to be well-founded: Mama Moore, while creating a lush garden Papa Sperm hires her to do, jumps into bed with him. The affair almost tears the family apart. That they survive is testament to the strength of their bonds and loyalty to one another – or so I perceive director Lisa Cholodenko’s point to be.

Mark RuffaloThe sex scenes between Moore and Ruffalo are wildly, passionately, animalistic. She literally tears his pants off, and greets what’s inside them like a long lost friend: “Hel-lo!” she says, apparently awestruck. Two or three substantial scenes of their lovemaking follow, in sharp contrast to the women’s sex: there’s been just one anemic scene of them in bed. In it we see Moore moving about under the covers, and Benning’s facial expressions – which would work if she were actually being expressive, but if anything, she seems bored. From underneath the quilt comes the buzz of a vibrator. More movement. End sex scene. The lesbians sitting behind me were laughing their asses off in recognition, and I confess I too got a chuckle out of the scene. The hetero sex scenes had not yet occurred, so it’s only in retrospect that I feel the lesbian couple got the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

More important, because Moore has such a raging good time in penis-land, what comes later on, in the confrontation between her and Benning, seems off kilter.  It’s evasive, even false. A bisexual friend of mine was miffed because Benning asks, “Are you straight?” rather than “Are you bisexual?” The latter question, I think, would’ve been out of character, especially during a confrontation – but there is something missing here. Benning’s question doesn’t even seem to register with Moore, and when Benning asks if it was about sex, Moore makes a dismissive face. Finally, she claims that she slept withKids All RightPapa Sperm because she was feeling “unappreciated.”

Is that what she was getting, her legs high in the air while Papa Sperm pounded into her like a steamroller? Appreciation? Gimme a break! The intensity of the hetero sex scenes, and the absence of romanticism, utterly contradicts the lie.

So I have to ask: Why? Why did the director stereotype lesbian sex as warm and cuddly, while depicting straight sex as raw animal pleasure? Was it fear of letting a mainstream audience see what women really do in bed? Or was she just rewinding old tired stereotypes of female sexuality? I guess it was foolish of me to expect Hollywood to move beyond lesbian stereotypes — a good movie about lesbian mothers is enough of a leap.

But here’s the thing: my criticism isn’t coming from some pro-lesbian-passion crusade. This is not a political ax I’m grinding. What I’m talking about is honesty and believability in art. The director’s choices regarding sexual portrayal wreck the film. Oh, sure, it’s a fun movie, it’s enjoyable to watch  – but the premise of the film doesn’t work, not if the implication at the end is, as it appears to be, that the family’s bonds are far stronger than a roll in the hay, and their relationships will heal and go on. From what I saw between that man and woman in bed compared to what I saw between the women’s sheets, I don’t believe this ending one bit. I don’t believe that Mama Moore will be faithful from now on. She’s going to stray again. And again.


7 responses »

  1. You can read it that way, and I think you might have a legitimate beef, especially given the stereotypes about lesbian v. straight sex. Still, there’s a compelling case for reading it more as “sex between two people who have been together for a really long time and have kids together” versus “sex in an extramarital affair.”

    Generally speaking, even in movies in which all the main characters are straight, if there’s a sex scene between two married characters and a sex scene between a married character and the person she’s having an affair with, 9 times out of 10, the affair scene will be more passionate and “raw.”

    That said, I just found it made no sense that a lesbian would cheat with a man, no matter how neglected or unappreciated she felt. Once maybe for curiosity, but to keep going back to him as if he were an irresistible force? Give me a break. It’d’ve made more sense if they established fully that she is bisexual.

    Excellent observation, the married sex v. affair sex. As for your last comment, even though I thought it would have been out of character for Benning to mention bisexuality during their fight, to me it’s a given that Moore’s character was bi. Thanks for your insights.–MS

  2. Wow.
    i loved reading this.
    thanks Marcy.
    L o t s of food for thought in your remarks.

    Thanks, Lorraine! I know you’re one of those gals, like me, who lusts for theoretical writing!–MS

  3. I don’t know that the kids are all right. Just because the girl goes off to college doesn’t suggest that she’s not damaged by what’s going on, along with the boy at home. It was a weird portrayal of any kind of long-term marriage, and Mark Ruffalo was so utterly adorable and Annette Bening so bitchy that you couldn’t help but cheer for him. And since when do teenagers play Scrabble in their bedrooms in the afternoon — maybe 1971? Overall, great performances, poorly written story. And yes, there’s no question that Moore’s character as drawn loves cock and will be out looking for more soon…if not back with Ruffalo.

    Thanks for another POV, but I disagree with you on so many counts. The kids seemed like typical American teenagers to me. The marriage struck me as a typical lesbian marriage. Annette Bening wasn’t bitchy: she was insecure and frightened of this new element that came into their lives. Why can’t teenagers play Scrabble in their bedrooms in the afternoon?? It was a 70s fashion, according to you;?? I played Scrabble in my room in 1958! I very much doubt Moore will be back with Ruffalo: she was aghast when he suggested they “just do this thing,” or how ever he put it after the secret was out. The only thing you said here that I do agree with is that she’s very likely to go on the prowl for hetero sex someday soon.–MS

  4. I felt like the whole family was going to make up after a while. Maybe that’s just me.

  5. Robin, that’s because you’re a romanticist and optimist, and you just want everything to be okay. That’s what I love about you.–MS

  6. so glad you wrote this…
    I’ve been reading other blogs and reviews, some of which point out the issue of biphobia which is my concern.

    Otherwise I loved the movie and the acting.

    Nic and Jules have been together a long time and they have issues (yes , like in many relationships).

    These issues, such as Nic’s drinking, Jules’s feelings of not being appreciated, attended to and nourished, but for a few moments in the bathtub; all add to the lack of communication. I think Nic’s drinking was a major concern.

    I think I assumed she was only drinking because of the current situation, but now that I think of it, even before the guy came along she was drinking quite a bit. I can’t see calling the movie biphobic — it doesn’t portray bisexuality in a negative light. True, Nic doesn’t acknowledge the probability of Jules being bi, just asks her if she’s straight–but as I said in the blog, it would’ve sounded false coming from that character at that moment, IMO. People are certainly talking a lot about various issues in this movie–and I thought it was a simple story!

  7. Clearly, some artistic license was taken. I haven’t yet seen the movie, but plan to soon.

    In related news, Prop 8 is gone. Gutted. History. Of course, the wingers will begin the requisite appeal attempt, but this time constitutionality will surely prevail.

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