THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (Lisa Cholodenko, USA, 2010) — 6
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT centers on a despicable act that perverts the right relationship between sex and children. Indeed it inverts the very nature of the marital bond and destroys a proper social understanding of family.
I refer, of course, to artificial insemination and sperm donation.
Oh … you thought I meant homosexuality. Please. Gay marriage came along a quarter-century after test-tube babies, not a quarter-century before (just as Stonewall was a result of the Summer of Love, not a cause). And not without reason: once you decouple sex and reproduction in a union that CAN be “fecund,” by turning babies into manufactured products, there really is no reason two persons of the same sex, a union that is by definition non-fecund, can’t marry. Or more precisely, society won’t know why not. If I could wave a wand and remove all thoughts of test-tube babies from the world’s mind or wave a wand and remove all thoughts of gay marriage from the world’s mind — there’s no doubt which of those I choose. None whatever.
Which actually is an entree into why I liked THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT more than I thought I would (the trailer was selling a dire, feel-good movie about new family [non]structures). The film obviously takes for granted the legitimacy of the “marriage” between Julianne Moore and Annette Bening and the test-tube children each one bore and whom they have raised together (if it’s ever made explicit which one bore which child, I’ve forgotten it). But the children become curious (I wonder why…) about who their biological father is, and they find out (deceptively easily) that it’s Mark Ruffalo. He gets involved with the family, the kids love him, Bening resists his rough-hewn charms (until she doesn’t), and he and Moore have an extended fling.
There’s a moment in the trailer (and the film) where sperm donor Ruffalo raises his glass “to an unconventional family.” Out of context, the moment is nauseating; in context too, the moment is nauseating, but in a different sense. I thought the film would be trying to have it all ways despite the inherently contradictory notions of parenthood in Heather’s two lesbian mommies and in sperm donors. (In other words, if parenthood is biology, the only basis for Ruffalo’s involvement, then you CAN’T have two mommies. But if parenthood is functional and refers to the actual raising of a born child, the only basis for a second mommy’s claim, then a sperm donor has no basis to claim anything whatever.) What’s morally admirable about this film, within its limits as a product of today’s Hollywood (a low bar, I realize), is that it eventually draws a line. It makes a choice about which model of parenthood is good and therefore which should be marginalized, rather than (as I feared) endorsing anything and everything in the name of unconvention that isn’t … get ready for your Two Minutes of Hate, libs … Ozzie and Harriet. Also because the affair is heterosexual and yet Moore is able to rejoin the gay family fold, if anyone were to actually choose to think rationally, he would realize that the whole gay-straight binary opposition, and the whole identity edifice built upon it, isn’t worth taking seriously for a second.
I mean, basically this is an entirely conventional morality play about adultery, only with a same-sex union and an homme-fatale homewrecker rather than a femme. And the film, granting the legitimacy of the union and the family, plays out as such a drama must — with the family reasserting itself against the outside threat like in a thousand films at least as far back as SUNRISE (though it goes without saying Lisa Cholodenko doesn’t have 1/10 the style chops that FW Murnau does). Granted, it takes adultery to cause the mommies to question the place of the sperm donor. In addition, one doubts the film-makers would support the rational thing and ban test-tube babies and open adoption, in the name of the integrity of existing family structures (some of them lesbian). Instead, one gets the sense that sperm donors are only “other” if they interfere with lesbians.
But that’s also the key point in why I think this film is being ridiculously overrated — namely an affirmative action curve. I don’t think there can be any question that this film is scoring a lot of hosannas — its Rotten Tomatoes score is 95 percent (behind only TOY STORY 3 among summer releases) — because it’s about two lesbians. A movie with this identical plot that was about a married couple and heterosexual adultery would be seen more clearly for what it is — a very well-acted, sometimes amusing little Sundance exercise, rather than all this “Year’s Best” nonsense.
The film is quite funny in places — particularly two scenes involving gay-male porn (I broke up on the line — “well in lesbian porn, they get straight actresses to pretend and the inauthenticity…”). Bening and Moore each get Big Speeches late in the film, and, as we knew they would, each hits it out the park. But the two children are a bit bland and, while they have plot threads, there’s little tension in them and they remain a bit underdeveloped. Frankly, once the kids have served the purpose of bringing Ruffalo into the film, they could have been disposed of as quickly as any other MacGuffin (hmmm). And yet, while the film insists in its very title that they’re all right, when you think about it, you realize the whole drama is centered around an act by the kids against their parents — an act one might think proves there’s at least one thing wrong with them as a result of the family’s very structure. But this is Hollywood, so noooooooo [/Belushi] Instead, the film ends with a trip to drop off the elder child at college, with tearful hugs and whatnot. The blandness and, frankly, perfection of these kids Is precisely where the film reduces itself to mere propaganda. Obviously whatever a person is raised around becomes his norm. But there is one late moment (briefly foreshadowed) where the daughter says “Aren’t you glad I was perfect and graduated at the top of the class so you could prove how great your lesbian marriage is?” A question that could be very aptly addressed to the scriptwriter.