also available in German

23 July 2010

"The Kids Are All Right" - but the film isn’t

Last night we went to the movies with two girlfriends and saw “The Kids Are All Right.” The film is all the rage right now in the U.S. and is the subject of lively discussion; after all, director Lisa Cholodenko has tackled the previously taboo subject of “lesbian mothers with children from the sperm bank” for the first time. In the media you hear nothing but praise, and the opening take is impressive: with 1.8 million dollars the film ranks in 12th place. It garnered the Teddy Award in February at the Berlin Film Festival and is said to have been the most discussed contribution to the Sundance Festival.

All very encouraging for a lesbian film; we can’t recall ever having heard anything like this before. But: Is this really a lesbian film at all, we asked ourselves in consternation, heading for the exit.

The film is marketed as being “just about a family,” but of course a modern one: the family isn’t composed of Mom and Dad and two kids, but, wow, of two moms with kids. Then, prompted by the curiosity of the teenaged kids, the previously anonymous “Donor-Dad” appears and introduces both excitement and conflict into the daily routine.

The film attempts to please everyone, even lesbians, but most of all men, whether gay or straight. The massive man sitting in front of me roared with laughter throughout the film! And it is indeed something to roar about, the way the two lesbian moms watch a gay male porn video to get turned on. And they have a pink dildo in their bed-table drawer.

I don’t know, maybe I’m old-fashioned – but I would definitely be turned off by either the male porn or the dildo. We attributed this peculiar directorial inspiration to Stuart Blumberg, who wrote the screenplay together with Lisa Cholodenko. You learn a life-lesson from this little scene, namely: lesbian sex is awkward and hard work. While Jules (Julianne Moore), invisible under the gently heaving comforter, works away at Nic (Annette Bening) until she resurfaces just before suffocating, Nic is watching her porn video, expressionless – apparently neither activity brings her to orgasm.

The audience is subjected to the strenuous and embarrassing sex life of the two women only once and briefly; it is compensated for this by plenty of hetero sex, with the sperm donor Paul (Mark Ruffalo) as an inexhaustible wellspring of energy. First he indulges at length and with abandon with a gorgeous young Ethiopian, then gets involved with Jules, who couldn’t resist his homemade pie and throws herself at him. Just why the lesbian mom Jules is so crazy about sex with Paul is a mystery even to herself (though probably not to the marketing strategist). And, after repeated vigorous workouts, she is in fact truly sorry. But before that happens the poor lesbian moviegoer must witness how Jules practically faints in worshipful enthusiasm at the sight of Paul’s erect penis (kept from our sight), while he receives her hysterical homage with a gentle, almost shy smile. Presumably we owe this scene too – a classic male fantasy – to the male screenplay writer, who thereby contributed definitively to the film’s box-office success.

So Paul the sperm donor is an appealing guy – even I liked him. While Nic is bitchy and controlling and on top of that can drink too much, and Jules practically loses it in her lust for Paul, he shows himself to be calm and caring in every situation – the ultimate sympathetic character. One can’t even blame him for disturbing the happy lesbian marriage; how is a normally constructed male supposed to react, after all, when a beautiful woman passionately throws herself at him?

Our straight friends didn’t like the film: too many sex scenes with the guy, unrealistic, too many clichés, too much annoying male grunting in the audience – that was roughly their verdict. After all, they had wanted to see a “different” film and instead found themselves subjected to the same old heterosexual wrestling match in close-up. Not at all pleasant!

Joey and I were more merciful. The acting is excellent throughout, and the film is worth seeing on that score alone. There are many comic, moving, and intelligent scenes and moments, which (we hope) can be credited to the female director and screenplay writer.

But the central message of the film, that lesbian sex is dreary and hetero sex the best thing on earth, is simply absurd.

Rather, the deep insight of Erma Bombeck still holds sway: “I haven’t trusted polls since I read that 62% of women had affairs during their lunch hour. I’ve never met a woman in my life who would give up lunch for sex.”

And she wasn’t referring to lesbian sex.
(Thanks to Joey Horsley for the Bombeck quote.)
Trans. Joey Horsley

# | Luise F. Pusch on 23 July 2010 at 08:26 PM • FilmkritikPermalink

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Hedwig Dohm