The Ugly Truth About Why the Kids are All Right
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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