The Ugly Truth About Why the Kids are All Right

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The Ugly Truth About Why the Kids are All Right

(Editor's Note: Remember a time when lesbian films were all the rage in Hollywood? Since it's awards season, I asked queer scholars Karen Tongson and Jasbir K Puar to revisit their fantastic review of that critical darling of yesteryear, The Kids Are All Right. Below is their piece, "The Ugly Truth...," revised from the original—posted at Oh! Industry—for Velvetpark.)

Upon its release in the summer of 2010, Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids are All Right received rapturous reviews from the mainstream media. A.O. Scott of the New York Times famously praised the film for its originality and the “thrilling, vertiginous sense of never having seen anything like it before.” The venerable Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times found Cholodenko’s depiction of marriage “universal,” and “toyed with the idea of not even using the word ‘lesbian’” in his review, instead leaving it up to his readers to discern that the triangulated couple at the heart of the film happened to be female. 

Meanwhile, the response within our milieu of queer studies scholars, and queer academic bloggers in particular, couldn’t have been more to the contrary; The Kids are All Right was pretty much reviled by our friends and colleagues. At first, we too felt compelled to nod vigorously along when Jack Halberstam and  Claire Potter offered lively critiques of Cholodenko’s film. We were wowed by Daisy Hernandez’s incisive look at the film’s race politics in Colorlines, and we laughed loud and hard upon reading Lisa Duggan's proclamation (undoubtedly true) that The Kids are All Right showcases the worst lesbian sex scene in the history of cinema, Claire of the Moon be damned.

Within the reception spaces of the queer academy’s semi-public sphere, within the confines of our quasi-counterpublics, the film went from questionable to bad. Really bad. In fact, as summer 2010 drew to a close and careened into what those of us in Los Angeles (the setting for many of Cholodenko’s films) call “awards season,” consensus seemed to build among queer academics that The Kids are All Right was not only the worst movie of the summer, or of 2010, but EVER. We were left wondering how this could be? Could the Kids are All Right be all that wrong? How could our friends and colleagues pan the film for not transcending the racial, sexual and gender stereotypes that dominate all of Hollywood filmmaking? Neither of us could remember

Comments [5]

Fillyjonk's picture

It's nice to see a sensible,

It's nice to see a sensible, thoughtful analysis of this movie...

I thought the backlash the film faced was incredibly over-zealous- regardless of one's opinion of the story or political subtext, it was still an intelligent and interesting drama. It's unjustifiable for the gay community to react with untempered hatred to something with these sorts of basic credentials. We need MORE mainstream queer films which are textured, subtle and multilayered- so please God, let's not shout them down on the rare occasions that they come along!

Robin Rigby's picture

A balanced review. If

A balanced review. If somewhat too dense for me to proces in my current, mildly drunken state. 

I decided to screen this film as part of my lesbian film group last year. We did it in conjunction with Family Matters, the gay parenting group at the LGBT center. I wanted to screen it particularly because of the mixed (and quite vocal) reactions it had received. Personally, I found it occasionally humorous, sometimes uncomfortable, and very flawed on a story level- one that has nothing to do with it's lesbian content. 

FYI, I liked Cholodenko's Laurel Canyon, I am not a fan of High Art

Joanne Robertson's picture


a thoughtful, balanced analysis of this film.  What a relief.

The collective lost their faculties over this movie.  What annoyed me during this time was how many lesbian sheeple proudly declared they hadn't seen the film, but hated it, and had no intention of seeing it, because a few prominent lesbians (some of whom also hadn't yet seen it) had flamed about the storyline.

Some declared they will boycott Cholodenko's future work.  It was a typical "throw the baby out with the bathwater" response, not unlike with Chaiken & her L Word brand.

Marcie Bianco's picture

true that, JR -- lesbians

true that, JR -- lesbians really do eat their own. ... so mean ... why is that?

Joanne Robertson's picture

Well, it's easy

to take everything personally - this may have something to do with swimming in such an incestuous little fishbowl... even online.

In terms of how we hold 'our' writers/directors to such a high standard, we just have to get over this notion that everything they put out there is representing us as a "community".  An impossible standard, since they're usually writing about individuals - flawed characters, or filming real life flawed humans for reality tv. 

I no longer hand-wring about how heteros are perceiving this or that in a storyline.  It's very freeing lol