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(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