It’s little surprising when you find a ‘lesbian comedy’ with loads of on-screen sex (actually, heterosexual sex) in the end-of-the-year- top ten lists of major movie critics. Has queer cinema finally arrived in the mainstream, that Brokeback Mountain was not a fluke?
The reality is much more complicated than this. The Kids Are All Right is a well-made film, funny and touching, with a stellar star cast with first rate acting. However, it’s not queer cinema as we know it, despite the fact that director Lisa Cholodenko is queer herself.
The film is being marketed as a family drama, where the lesbian couple as the parents is just incidental. As the film ends, it reinforces the same: The family stays together (and you need a man to bring home the idea.)
That’s where I had a problem — the man in question. And this is where the drama hinges — the man is question, a sperm donor.
While categorising the actors in their reviews, a few critics named Annette Bening’s character as lead and Julian Moore as second lead. This is an interesting marker how the mainstream critics have viewed the film — the lesbian couple at the centre of the film is just a plot point, not intrinsic to the film. And the film? The film is about family, queer or otherwise. And, family comprises of husbands and wives, the leader and the follower, the breadwinner and the housewife. So, the Bening character is lead in the film because she is the breadwinner. And, don’t get me wrong, she behaves like one.
Nick and Jules is a couple who have two children, Joni and Laser, each one is the mother of one of them, and both the children are fathered by the same anonymous sperm donor. When Joni turns 18, Laser persuades her to follow up on their mysterious dad, without the knowledge of their moms. Joni agrees sceptically, and soon they land up at the place of Paul, a happy-go-lucky follow who is in restaurant business. Laser is not really impressed with his dad, but Joni is, and they decide to meet up with him again. Okay, let’s go a little faster: The mothers come to know, invite Paul home, and Jules decides that she wants to be landscape architecture, and what better place would it be than to do Paul garden? One thing leads to another and Jules and Paul starts sleeping together. But wasn’t Jules gay? Okay, every woman is till she meets the right man. And the right man promptly falls in love with her, for, among other things, she is very proactive in bed. When the cat is out of bag, all hell breaks loose, but you need not worry. As the film ends, everything is all right.
Yeah, you will have to give it to the film, it does not forces Jules to choose the man over her partner, but covertly and overtly, it still try to sell that without the father, the family may not be complete. You get this message, despite the film being so perceptive.
But the real strength of the film is the actors and how they play the roles, especially Bening and Moore. Moore does not have problem with sexuality in films (In Savage Grace, she tries to seduce her on-screen son), but here she is something else, underplaying the character with such banality that it shine through, amply supported by Bening, who also puts up a bravura performance.