Why The Kids Are All Right Rises Above the Controversy


There is a moment, well into The Kids Are All Right ‘s gripping story of a lesbian couple and their two teenage children who go behind their moms’ backs to find their sperm donor father, that will certainly piss off some viewers. We won’t spoil it for you here, but Irin Carmon at Jezebel (who, for the record, doesn’t seem to have seen the film yet) has a post explaining why gays might be offended. Since we’ve actually seen the movie and let it process for a while, despite our own initial misgivings, we’d like to take the opportunity to convince you that sexual politics shouldn’t stop you from enjoying one of the year’s most engaging and appealing films.

We will say no more about the offending scene than this: It involves a character living up to a particularly nasty and generally self-evidently untrue stereotype about lesbians.

That being said, it’s a moment that can neither be taken out of context nor generalized. And that is because The Kids Are All Right is such a singular film. The greatest strength of co-writer and director Lisa Cholodenko’s (who, it’s worth noting is a lesbian parent) script, as well as Julianne Moore and Annette Bening’s pitch-perfect portrayals of the couple in question, is that it paints its lead characters as very specific, likable but fallible people. Nic (Bening) is a resolutely Type A OB-GYN with strict rules for the kids, a tendency to be called away to work at just the wrong time, and a nasty habit of drinking too much to take the edge off of stressful situations. Jules (Moore) isn’t quite her opposite so much as her counterpart: a sort of free spirit with a lighter touch who’s never exactly managed to launch a successful career. They argue, like all couples do, but the love and deep attachment between them is always palpable. Oh, and they watch guy-on-guy gay porn together while they get it on. In a spectacularly awkward clip that is nonetheless true to the characters, Jules explains to their 15-year-old son that human desire is a strange and unpredictable (not to mention inexplicable) thing.

It’s easy to understand why oppressed groups can be so protective of the way they are portrayed in media. Movies like The Kids Are All Right, which may be rocketed to mainstream success on the strength of its two A-list stars (and equally strong supporting performances by Mark Ruffalo and Mia Wasikowska), might have a chance at getting Middle America to empathize with a lesbian-led family. But that shouldn’t mean Bening and Moore’s two moms should have to be perfect. Any film with flawless main characters is bound to be a forced, boring one more concerned with being politically correct than telling a powerful story.

The Kids Are All Right plants the viewer right in the center of this family in flux’s most difficult summer. By creating characters we feel we know, not in spite but because of their shortcomings, Cholodenko and her stars will undoubtedly win over viewers and rise above stereotypes.

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