The Ugly Truth About Why the Kids are All Right
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designation as a "lesbian film," made by the inevitably essentialized figure of the "lesbian director," Lisa Cholodenko? Through this mainstream marketing lens, Cholodenko invariably carries the burden of lesbian representation, and “realistic” if not positive representation at that. What if we instead construe the film as a potentially astute political and social satire about the possibilities and pitfalls of family formations? If we switch over to this interpretative path—a stubbornly reparative one—we could look closer at the ugliness the film conveys to broader, mainstream audiences about the costs and horrors of normativity in all its guises.
In the spirit of wrongs turned right, here are some of the truly ugly things about queers that drew us in to The Kids are All Right:
1. Lesbians can have really boring sex, just like anyone else.
Alas, it's true: sometimes all the sex toys and props in the world just can't jazz up the long-term mojo. We too would be more than happy to see “the best lesbian sex” on screen. But what would that be? For whom would it be?
In The Kids are All Right, Cholodenko actually makes an incredibly smart intertextual intervention that references the vexed representational history of lesbian sex on screen. When explaining why lesbian porn is unappealing to their son Laser after he finds gay male porn in their bedroom (not to mention a pyrotechnic dildo), Jules and Nic summarize the problem neatly: two straight women are hired to depict lesbian sex for straight men.
Two straight women like Bening and Moore, for example.
Many of our colleagues lamented the disparate degrees of purported “hotness” in the homo and hetero sex scenes in The Kids are All Right. Yet in our view, these scenes are less about contrasting “lesbian” with “straight” sex as they are about comparing “married sex” with extramarital sex. The long-termers’ encounter looks more conjugal and perfunctory, whereas sex outside the couple appears more spontaneous, urgent, even desperate. Mostly because extramarital sex often is. What if the depiction of extramarital sex were between Jules and another woman? Might it not contain the same desperation, improvisation and even hints of violence as her assignations with Paul?
Ultimately, who knows what choices Cholodenko could and didn't make; but perhaps the unsexy lesbian/married couple sex, contrasted with the hyper-phallic