Once again, my movie review is going to contain spoilers, so if you have not seen the film and don’t want anything revealed ahead of time, read no more! I just will always put this kind of disclaimer up because one time I went to a friend’s house while he was watching Fight Club, walked in around the time of the big Tyler Durden plot twist, and he knowingly let me ruin the entire movie before I got to watch it from the beginning.
Last night I saw director Lisa Cholodenko’s newest film, The Kids Are All Right. Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) are a lesbian couple living in Southern California with their two children, Laser and Joni. Fifteen year old Laser decides he wants to contact the sperm donor responsible for bringing him and his sister into the world. Legally, eighteen year old Joni has to make the contact with donor Paul. Paul is a smooth-talking 30-something organic farmer/restaurateur whose hyper-masculine persona and irresponsible behavior first gains the love and admiration of the family, then their disgust and anger.
Rather than to regurgitate the plot here further, I want to talk about the way the movie addresses sexuality. I do not want to overstep my bounds here, after all, Cholodenko is, herself, a lesbian, and thus I trust that as the director she portrayed the lives of Jules and Nic in a way that was similar to her own experiences. After all, Cholodenko herself had a child with her life partner through an anonymous sperm donor. That being said, I was mostly pleased with the way sexuality and gender were portrayed in The Kids Are All Right.
To begin, I liked that this was a film that did not fall into the typical trap of needing to characterize the lesbian couple as a copy of a male and female couple. I wouldn’t say there was a butch or a femme role assumed by either Nic or Jules, which was refreshing to see, as I feel that lesbians are often portrayed as one hyper-masculine and one hyper-feminine partner. Sure, there was masculine and feminine performativity carried out by both characters, you can’t strip away the fact that gender is inherent, or at least deeply associated with many different traits. According to US or Western social standards, Nic’s short pixie haircut and no-nonsense attitude may be seen as a more masculine performance, while her sensitivity and maternal protectiveness is typically associated more with femininity. I don’t try to fall into these generalizations, of course men can be family-oriented and women cut their hair short all of the time. But there are gendered associations with behaviors and appearances in every culture, and I doubt you can argue that the associations I just laid down there don’t ring true, at least in the US. Thankfully, the film doesn’t portray these characteristics and behaviors as dichotomous.
I also like the way that sexuality was interpreted as a more fluid and complicated matter than simply hetero or homo. Nic and Jules get their kicks in the bedroom while watching all male porn. In fact, Jules goes quite in depth about the fluidity and convolutedness of sexuality when Laser asks why she and Nic watch “gay man porn.” Definitely a funny part of the movie as the hippie-esque Jules tries to be honestly explicit when explaining herself to her fifteen year old.
Jules does not turn out to follow an explicitly homosexual path as well, when she eventually comes to cheat on Nic with sperm donor Paul. I think this is where those who identify as strictly heterosexual or homosexual (i.e. 0 and 6 on the Kinsey scale) might have problems. I might be assuming here, but I have a feeling that many people thought, or even whispered to a fellow movie-goer “but I thought she was gay,” at the onset of Jules and Paul’s affair. And indeed, when Paul proposes that he and Jules move their relationship to an even more serious level after their affair is discovered by Nic, Jules says into the phone “I’m gay,” maybe even further confusing many audience members. But I think this was a realistic exhibition of human sexuality, especially under the conditions that the family and Jules was under. Namely, Joni is an emotional 18-year old preparing to leave for college, Nic is stressed out about Paul’s arrival and is downing more wine than ever, Laser is experimenting with drugs and hanging out with a sociopath, and Jules is trying to start a business and productive working lifestyle for the third time. Paul comes along and becomes Jules’ first customer at her new upstart landscape design business, and this galvanizes the whole sexual escapade.
Although I delved into the sexuality of the film, The Kids Are All Right is a movie that really tackles family, growing up, infidelity and other issues that many mainstream or heterocentric films cover, but it shows how these same issues are present in nontraditional (in typical Western culture) family structures. Any of the problems that come up are neither further exacerbated nor smoothed over by the fact that Jules and Nic are in a homosexual relationship, and I think that is such a good step in a society where many still think that shows like the L-Word are the Last Word (heh) in lesbian relationship representation.