The Ugly Truth About Why the Kids are All Right
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case of The Kids are All Right it might have actually worked to underscore her critique of masculinity. Part of what may feel unsatisfying, uncomfortable or not toothsome enough about The Kids are All Right is that it critiques masculinity while letting “actual” men get away with too much (especially the interloping bio-man embodied by Paul). The Kids are All Right critiques masculinity regardless of its (un)successful embodiments—e.g. Nic’s/Benning’s “failed” butch aesthetics—by reminding us how much the power and coercive force of masculinity, even female masculinity, can have very little to do with hair, clothes, make-up or a lack thereof, but everything to do with money, career, ambition and the performance of paternity.
The Kids are All Right is, as we said at the outset, an ugly film. Or rather, it reveals the ugliness at the heart of queer and bourgeois-boheme fantasies about being different, and yet not. Nic and Jules may have formed an “alternative” family, but it still functions to securitize, protect and police the very notion of “family” itself. Paul may be a nice, quirky guy—an reconstituted, “alterna-dude” who grows organic veggies and runs a green, locally-sourced restaurant—but none of that means he isn’t a total douche. He’s still a bio-man who benefits from all the accommodations the world makes for “creative” guys like him; from the discarded people of color in the film with whom he professes to be “down,” to the lesbians who never quite banished the power of masculinity from their own lived structure. In the end, we aren’t supposed to like these people or by extension and implication, ourselves, very much.
And yet Cholodenko dwells on all of this damage in a way that forces us to look long and hard, and maybe even laugh at ourselves as we confront the terrible realization of how fucked up we queer (neo)liberals can truly be. We may not always see ourselves, or even see what we want to see about ourselves in her films. Those of us who aren’t moneyed and/or white Angelenos would be especially hard pressed to do so. But what makes The Kids Are All Right compelling for us, if not consonant with our views of life, love and the world, is how uncomfortable it makes us feel when we actually do experience the tiniest moments of self-recognition within these characters, within their words, within their failures and their actions; when we catch a glimpse of ourselves doing terrible things in order to exert a tighter grasp on the people, places and things we imagine belong to us alone.