cheating ourselves

I have to say something about The Kids Are All Right. I’ve already sorta-reviewed it (here).
This is a follow-up plea.

I’ve been watching in horror and disgust and (especially) disappointment as lesbians all over the web have excoriated this exceptional film because it has a “lesbian-sleeps-with-a-man” storyline.

The film does not have that storyline.

It has that plot point, but it does not tell that story. Its stories are much bigger than that.

The Kids Are All Right is about family, love, honesty, parents, children, failure, dreams, freedom, responsibility, now, then. It’s about growing old, growing up, reaching out, turning in, having courage, having issues, taking a risk, taking stock, making babies, making speeches, moving on, moving closer, exploring, retreating, eating, drinking, having sex, having a fit, freaking out, calming down, going too far, going home, kissing well, kissing awkwardly, wearing sweater vests, wearing tennis shoes, wearing hats, telling the truth, telling a fib, hoping for the best, fearing for the worst, saying goodbye, saying you’re sorry, confronting your fears, avoiding your neuroses, singing Joni Mitchell songs, laughing at Joni Mitchell songs, riding motorcycles, driving trucks, driving each other crazy, forgetting your principles, remembering what you love, watching porn, watching your children become adults, tending the earth, neglecting your own, rising above, going down, going to Home Depot, going off the rails. It’s about lesbians, Californians, hippies, skater dudes, composters, perfectionists, drinkers, landscapers, Mexicans, Americans, moms, dads, kids, friends, enemies, frenemies, lovers, posers, flirters, partners. It showcases flaws, talents, fun, pain, hopes, disappointments, commitment, roaming, steadiness, flakiness, distrust, acceptance, promises, lies, sincerity, hypocrisy. It knows how people love, what people think, why people fuck up, what makes adolescence amazing, what makes adults lovable, who knows best, who’s on first, what is sexy, who holds the cards, how to make you look, what will make you cry, why you should bow before Annette Bening, why you should worship Julianne Moore, how to spell “all right,” who you were as a kid, who you’ve become, what you missed, what you feel, what you need, why you try, why you can’t, how you can, who you wish you could be. It matters because life is hard, love is precious, kids are tricky, parents are important, women are strong, men are beautiful, people are strange, families are fragile, time is fleeting, and love is everything. It is funny, sad, smart, universal, careful, carefree, pure, inspired, real.

It’s about life. It’s about women. It’s decidedly not even a little bit about penises.

If you have seen the film, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, you cannot possibly know what I mean. So stop jerking your knees and belittling a bigger-than-that movie and GO SEE IT. Keep your mind and your heart open. Listen to what the characters say, watch what they do, and understand who they are.

Don’t cheat yourself. Lisa Cholodenko has a brilliant vision and a giant heart. It saddens me to think that someone might miss out on that by favoring petty politics over transcendent truth.

I hate, hate, hate storylines in which lesbians sleep with men. And I love, love, love this movie. Oxymoron? Or revelation?

All I am saying is give TKAAR a chance.



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16 Responses to “cheating ourselves”

  1. Vikki says:

    As a middle-aged lesbian who has been in a relationship with the same woman for 17 years and has two kids, the only thing I’m afraid of is seeing myself, my relationship, my family, my humanity with all of its faults reflected back to me. But, in my opinion, that is what a great movie does – it reflects the reality of human nature. It tells the truth. I can’t wait to see it – it opens here tomorrow and I have my tickets. I’ll be going with my partner and two of our best friends – a double date.

  2. scribegrrrl says:

    I wish my partner and I could tag along! It’s that kind of movie: it shows you yourselves and your relationships, your families, your friends, everything you are. And you’re exactly right: that’s what movies are for. That’s what we want!

    I’m really glad this movie exists, and I can only hope it finds its way around the world. It’s THAT GOOD.

  3. Deb says:

    What she said. My partner and I have been together 23 years. We raised her 28 year old daughter. It’s complicated! Thanks for nice follow-up.
    We’ll go (all three of us) as soon as it come out here.

  4. Dana says:

    Hear, hear! Well said. I made the same point in my review, and have been likewise dismayed by all the negativity around the supposed storyline. If anything, Cholodenko uses the supposed theme to lure people in (maybe straight men who fantasize about sleeping with lesbians?), and then turns the whole thing into Not About That At All.

  5. scribegrrrl says:

    You said it, Dana: “Paul, with a ready-made connection to their family, was convenient.”

    His expressions were the same as Jules’s kids’ expressions. That’s powerful, irresistible, and completely beside the point! :)

  6. Tracey says:

    I am married to a clever and incredibly insightful lesbian writer of similar mind, spirit and tone to scribegrrrl. Still there were elements of the description of this film-which we are dying to see-that truly moved me. I want to lift the quotes, stick them on my wall so I never forget the beauty of humanity and love as told destined here. Well done!

  7. MeL says:

    Thanks for the follow-up. When I first read about this plot point, I was disappointed, but was still willing to watch the movie anyway, especially because – hello! – it has Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in it. After reading so many reviews that are full of praise for the movie, including yours and Dorothy Snarker’s, I can’t wait for the movie to open here in Germany so I can go and see it.

    As for the discussion, I unfortunately don’t think that those who argue so vehemently against a movie they haven’t even seen are very open to the excellent points you’re making. I tried something similar on my blog, but all people want to read at the moment are rants about treacherous “lesbians” who don’t really get what being lesbian is about, and that a REAL lesbian would never sleep with a man. I think that those arguments and the general unwillingness to watch this movie because of this one particular plot point show that the lesbian community (if something like that even exists) is still in need of more self-confidence and pride to not feel so threatened by this. Whats’s also unfortunate about this entire debate is that so many people who call for tolerance and acceptance are not even willing to give this movie and its filmmaker the benefit of the doubt.

    Again, thanks for the follow-up, and please keep defending the movie. Even if texts like that might be preaching to the choir, I still like to read them. :-)

  8. Georgia says:

    Thank you, scribgrrrl. As a writer myself, it makes me crazy when people (and lesbians are NOTORIOUS for this) criticize, villify, and boycott somebody’s work before they’ve even seen/read/heard it. I certainly don’t want somebody refusing to buy my novel because she heard there’s a subplot in it that she doesn’t like, especially when several others are telling her, “But it’s not about that! Read it!” So thank you for trying your best to shine a light. Not sure how much good it will do, but your efforts are greatly appreciated by some of us. :-)

  9. EM says:

    Thank you scribgrrrl….I too hope that the movie will “find its way around the world” (am in SE Asia). Can hardly wait to see it, and will definitely be buying my own personal copy of the DVD/BD when it comes out. Was quite horrified at all the hate on AE and on DS too! Peace, please!

  10. Mandi says:

    I am so excited to see this movie. It is coming out in a theater about 45 minutes from where I live this weekend (probably the closest it will come) and I will be there to see it. Some people need to get off of their high horses and see the movie before making comments about it. Can’t wait to see it as we are just starting our process of conception using a donor!

  11. [...] Many other lesbian bloggers have also turned their pens to reviews, including Dorothy Snarker at After Ellen, Julie Goldman and Brandy Howard at AutoStraddle, Lesbian Dad, Scribegrrrl, and Kathy Wolfe at SheWired. As is clear from some of the comments on Dorothy’s post at After Ellen, however, and Jill Bennett’s op-ed at She Wired, however, many people are feeling everything from concern to anger over the “lesbian sleeps with a man” part of the plot. I tried to address that in my review—the film is not “about” the opposite-sex relationship and it is clear the character isn’t “converted” to being straight. Yes, a lesbian sleeping with a man is an old film cliché—but as both Dorothy and LesbianDad have pointed out in the After Ellen comment thread, too, director Lisa Cholodenko turns the trope on its head. (If you’re interested in even more of the debate, check out the follow-up posts by Dorothy and Scribegrrrl.) [...]

  12. weltatem says:

    It is not about penises, it is about heteronormativity. It is about the bankruptcy of traditional patriarchal forms to promise fulfillment for emancipated women. Above all, it’s about the filmmaker’s decision not to question those norms in these precarious and transitional times, despite the film’s mere trappings of progressive gender ideals. Applaud its moment in time, be grateful that it was put on film: just don’t ask us to get on board with its shallow depth of vision.

  13. Ace says:

    I finally got around to seeing the movie this weekend and was pleased to find it almost as good as I had heard it was. (I did, however, have some minor issues with the first scene in which Jules slept with Paul.)

    When leaving the movie, my wife and I discussed the degree to which it mattered to us that Cholodenko with a married lesbian with a kid — and we determined that this significantly affected our reactions to the movie. For me, anyway, it helped me be OK with the parts of the movie that pushed my I-hate-movies-where-lesbians-sleep-with-men buttons.

    I’ve read a fair amount of commentary since seeing the movie and found it depressing how frequently Cholodenko’s motives in making the movie are reduced to this out-of-context quote: “I was much more interested in reaching out to the male population…than I was concerned about alienating a sector of the lesbian population.” Argh.

  14. scribegrrrl says:

    @Ace — Hi! Yes, I agree that the “real-life lesbian” behind the camera makes a difference. Lends some validity, I think — because it’s actually her story in some ways.

    And regarding that quote, I wonder whether Cholodenko regrets saying that? But obviously she’s right not to worry about alienating a sector of such a difficult group. ;)

    @weltatem — I do see what you’re saying. Of course. I just don’t understand why this movie is being subjected to that kind of analysis. Its context is the decidedly heteronormative world we live in (ack, I swore I’d never write or speak that word ever again), and I think it’s fantastic that Cholodenko is carving out a space in that world. I don’t subscribe to the “traditional forms” — I wouldn’t get married even if I had a federally recognized way to do so — but for *what it is,* I think the film is fabulous. Universal, personal. Not political. Why does it need to be?

    Let’s just think happy thoughts about I Am Love instead. ;)

  15. jenniferfrompittsburgh says:

    It was my experience that my kids were more interested about me being lesbian and why, but then I was with their dad for a lot of their youth, so there’s that. Kids want to know things, they’re annoying that way.
    This movie struck me as authentic, with characters who are flawed and human, and told in a way that engages the viewer from start to finish.

  16. Wimp says:

    Brilliant review. Anette’s scene when she found out about the cheat is pure, pure gold. So moving and sad.

    I love how in this film about adults stuck in their own little worlds of anxieties and bourgeois commodity and boredom, the characters with a genuine search for meaningful connections are their kids. Yes, they are alright, indeed! Another scene that comes to mind is when the teen boy, insecure and in an early stage of personality formation, intuitively distances himself from the phoneys, in a very Salingerian way: both the donor and the animal-beating friend.

    This is a very misunderstood film that demands more attentive viewers.

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