There were boos and hisses of course. The plot just wasn’t plausible. Julianne Moore’s lesbian character “Jules” has sex with a guy. Although, Mark Ruffalo’s “Paul” largely resembles a bumbly, dishevelled lesbian…with a beard.
Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right gently slides the emphasis off the assumption that the movie is about lesbians. Moore and Annette Bening (“Nic”) star as a devoted but fraying couple but the focus is on human relationships and balancing the dynamics of love, the unseen, routine and the tension of growing apart and back together.
Jules and Nic’s two kids have reached the age where they are curious about their sperm donor dad (Ruffalo), and want to make contact. The moms express support but naturally feel threatened—maybe the family and life they created for their children wasn’t good enough? What if they like him better? And from the outset, they kinda do. Paul is a college drop-out, roars around on a BMW motorcycle and owns an hipster organic resto. Yes, he is way-cool.
Paul is so way-cool that Jules also falls under his charming spell and her lesbian-ness evaporates in one kiss with him. This is not a spoiler, it’s in the trailer. And if you’ve read any review, you know that the kiss is more than a kiss, and our dear lesbian gets it on with Paul. More than once.
And this is where the gays boo and hiss, because, surely, this doesn’t happen in the real world. No lesbian is gonna fall for a guy who grows perfect heirloom tomatoes, and want to have repeated afternoon sex with him AND smoke cigarettes in bed afterwards. But Jules does, in a not-so-conflicted manner.
What director and writer Cholodenko achieves is pulling the audience from the shame of an affair by spinning the rules of sexuality like a whirling dervish. Lesbians aren’t supposed to sleep with guys, especially when they are in the thick of a gay relationship. With children to boot!
But it does happen. I’ve witnessed it. I know legions of lesbians who have suddenly turned on their heel and left our team to find love in the arms of a man. Of course, more often I hear of the opposite. The married woman who leaves her husband for the personal trainer at the gym with curves just like hers, who gives her the fawning attention that hubby failed to.
I even know a man who was married to a woman and had a child with her–who then married a guy. This stuff happens. Of course I wish all gays would stay gay and not pull an Anne Heche (who was still remarkably silly to ditch Ellen for cameraman Coley Laffoon), but, sexuality and gender, and what we knew of it is evolving so fast even us gays can’t keep current.
Cholodenko’s talent has always been in writing clever dialogue and she attacks this kind of raw and misunderstood material with ease. She was the creative force behind High Art (1998), Laurel Canyon (2002), and directed episodes of The L Word and Six Feet Under. By casting Bening and Moore as a lesbian couple, she made the whole notion of ‘lesbian couple’ even more palatable to North America. We’ve loved Bening in Love Affair, American Beauty and Running With Scissors. Moore was a standout in The Hours, Savage Grace, A Single Man and Chloe. Yes, North America could handle them as a lesbian couple in a movie. Just as the star power of Ellen and Sharon Stone allowed in If These Walls Could Talk 2. Boundaries did a yoga stretch when Ellen and Stone rolled around under the covers in a tastefully erotic make-out scene to the hypnotic sound of Dido’s Thank You.
Normally lesbians are misrepresented as man-hating gender warriors. Or glossy sex-mad non-committal types in lipstick(L Word). Feminist cut-throats. Twitchy, abused, misunderstood, fragmented childhood survivors. Wavering, experimenting, disenchanted, strong-willed, lost and unfound types.
Cholodenko gave us two smart and snappy talkers with Jules and Nic. Their kisses were natural, their lives believable. Their hurts very real. And I’m sure, somewhere, somehow, two lesbians have had their relationship tested by the emergence of the sperm donor years later. Peculiar things happen, but the gravity of The Kids Are All Right was in how their knotted lives braided together, unravelled, and then knotted back again, even tighter.
The challenges the couple faces are not brand new to humanity. They are a constant thread in all our lives. We can identify bits of ourselves in the lovers. We have flashbacks of previous partners. We make mental note of how not to act.
Jules: “Go easy on the wine, hon, it’s daytime.”
Nic: “Okay, same goes for the micromanaging.”
They gently bicker, cry down to their collarbones, love each other immensely and push and pull until Jules voices, “Marriage is hard. Two people, year after year. Sometimes you stop seeing the other person.”
And this is the significant line I pulled from the movie. There’s always one. In September I read an article on empty nesters, and how the separation and divorce rate skyrockets when all the kids are out of the house. The family unit that was so distracted with maintaining the homeostasis of four or five people, slows down and concentrates on two. The writer offered advice, to conquer that transformation from chaotic family life to the return of “the couple” that it all began with. “Keep yourself interesting and interested.”
Jules’ character hit the bull’s eye on the failure of so many relationships. We stop seeing each other. And even though it was a far stretch that Jules fell for Paul and his tomatoes, viewers can see the obvious. He showed interest, he saw her. This is where affairs ignite. Are they wrong? Yes. But, they can happen when the connective threads pull apart and someone else makes us feel desirable and alive.
The movie broaches even larger concepts of forgiveness and resolve–and that resurrecting a wobbly house is possible. It’s about how we find our ‘tribe’ and keep that sacred unit safe. It’s done with sharp humour and a startling grip on emotional response (intensely portrayed by Bening at Paul’s dinner table with the family).
What could have been a potentially fluffy, fictional romp turned into an intelligent snapshot of all our lives and how we handle emotional distance, restlessness and curiosity.
What did you think?
Here’s the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgwjTy_cohg