The Ugly Truth About Why the Kids are All Right

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The Ugly Truth About Why the Kids are All Right

the last time we saw a widely distributed release, either mainstream or “independent” that didn't in some way lapse into shitty race politics, gender politics, sexual politics, class politics, and often all of the above.

Nevertheless—to resurrect an earworm from 90s one-hit-wonders, Deep Blue Something—we both kinda liked it. In different viewing environments on opposite coasts, each of us found The Kids are All Right entertaining, fury-rousing, even thought-provoking. We got to thinking that maybe queer scholars approached The Kids are All Right with too much earnestness and not enough salt. What if everything that was wrong with the movie was actually what was right about it?    

Lisa Cholodenko’s major films, from High Art to Laurel Canyon, never featured who anyone would call “likeable” characters. All of her films’ protagonists have been white, privileged, pretentious and undeniably fucked up. Viewed in triptych—to extend Kathryn Bond Stockton’s suggestion that The Kids are All Right should be read in diptych with High Art—Cholodenko has been building a formidable body of work that softly, but also scathingly satirizes the denizens of queer(ish) urbanity, primarily in Los Angeles. (Lest we forget, Frances McDormand’s character in Laurel Canyon seduces her son’s obnoxious aspirational girlfriend, played by Kate Beckinsale.)

Cholodenko likes to draw upon the repulsive registers of her actors’ gestural repertoires. She pitches her satire to a quotidian lo-fi for maximum discomfort. In The Kids are All Right, Nic’s icy severity surfaces in Annette Benning’s annoying facial tics: in a face that will not hold despite tremendous strain to do so. Jules’ casual, but destructive indecisiveness is perfectly captured by Moore’s goofy, muppet-like head-nodding; a reflex of assent for her lack of ability to assert. Paul’s creative class douchery and hetero male narcissism is perfectly embodied by Ruffalo, a prototypically “sexy schlub” adored by many women—and quite a few gay men—because he seems “real,” accessible, a little soft, just a notch below “hot”; in short, because his masculinity reads a lot like a butch dyke’s. Because many of us like these actors, maybe we’ve wanted too badly to transfer our affection for them and their star texts onto their fundamentally unlikable on-screen characters?

Don't get us wrong: we appreciate all the agro generated by this film and we each have our share of complaints. But what would happen if we thought of The Kids are All Right beyond its

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