Review: The Kids Are All Right

Family photo from film, everyone around the picnic table

Like Chloe, I love me a good romantic comedy. Unlike Chloe, though, I don’t usually analyze them. I watch them as an escape, as a distraction, as entertainment. Sometimes though there are movies that just require commentary. Usually it’s because the movie has some how moved into the realm of “actually about me” in some way. Remember my reaction to The Back Up Plan? As a Latina I couldn’t not comment on J. Lo’s whitewashing in that movie. And with The Kids Are All Right, the fact that it focused on a lesbian couple hit kind of close to home.

There has been quite a bit written about this film. The preview itself elicited a pretty big out cry from the queer blogosphere because it was made obvious that the main plot line of the movie is that Julianne Moore cheats on her wife of twenty years with a man, who happens to have been the sperm donor for the two kids. Sounds like a rom com set up no?

Folks were understandably upset because they felt like this, the first mainstream movie to feature a lesbian couple, had to fall into the “lesbian sleeps with man” trope. The idea being that all lesbians are just waiting for a man in their lives–you know, so they can have “real” sex. All that.

So I went into the film expecting the worst. Maybe that’s why I was pleasantly surprised, at least in the way this particular piece of the plot was handled.

Spoilers ahead!

The thing I liked best about the film was that it depicted, in what to me felt like an accurate and authentic way, how complicated modern relationships are. The film was a peak into the lives of a couple trying to make marriage work twenty years in, and all the complexities that arise with that task.

As Sinclair Sexsmith notes:

The depiction of the inner-workings of their long term relationship were stunning and complex. I complain frequently and loudly about how lousy most “relationship films” are, because they depict the chase. Couple is not together in the beginning of the movie, hijinx ensue, couple is together at the end of the movie. The End! Happily ever after!

For years I’ve been saying that it’s no wonder we have absolutely no idea how to be and behave and cherish and belong in long term relationships, given that the only depictions and models we ever have are the story before the committment. What happens after the commitment? What happens after the “I do” vows and the kids and twenty years later when things are getting, well, too comfortable? How do you reconcile if someone does something really stupid? How do you forgive? How do you keep loving someone for such a long time, at such close proximity? How do you go from being separate beings to that merging one-ness of connectedness and togetherness?

If Julianne Moore, after having sex with the donor, had decided she wasn’t really a lesbian and left her partner of twenty years for him, maybe I would feel differently. That would fall into the trap of the other films we’ve seen with lesbian main characters (like Chasing Amy and Kissing Jessica Stein). But Julianne Moore doesn’t do that–she stays, and she doesn’t renounce her gayness after a few rolls in the hay with a dude. Sexuality is complicated, as are relationships. I think The Kids Are All Right sends that message.

Now, if we talk about the depiction of race in the movie, this one fails us the way we might expect a rom com to. The only people of color (in extremely minor roles) are stereotypically displayed–the worst being the way Julianne Moore interacts with her Mexican Gardener. Colorlines has a spot-on take down of this aspect of the movie.

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