Cahiers Péguy


The Kids May Be All Right, but Their Movie Isn’t

If you watched the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday evening, you may have wondered about the film The Kids Are All Right, which was nominated in four categories. It’s a sure thing you hadn’t heard about it from your priest, your more conservative Catholic friends neither. The movie—about a same-sex marriage of women, each of whom has a child by artificial insemination—won awards for Best Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical) and Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical (Annette Bening, as one of the women). Julianne Moore plays the wifier of the two wives, while Mark Ruffalo gives the most appealing performance as the father of both children, whom the mothers insist on referring to by his function: sperm donor. The film, released in theaters last summer, is now available from Netflix and on demand from your local cable outlet. Demand it? I’d say not. . . .

The moralistic Catholic response to the film is obvious: It portrays same-sex marriage as normal. It offers scenes of simulated sex between women and film clips from male homosexual pornography, which the two moms use to turn them on, to give them “the vibe,” as they say. No, I am not kidding. A Catholic who stands anywhere to the right of Nancy Pelosi is likely to experience feelings somewhere between icky and abhorrent. I have yet to find an on-line source of Catholic film reviews that even dignified The Kids Are All Right with a mention. Big surprise. Back in the golden days of censorship at the Boston Pilot—well, this film would not have been made back then, but let’s just say that priests all over the archdiocese would have railed against it from the pulpit.

My response was not moralistic. I’ve lived in the liberal East long enough that such things roll off me water-and-duck-like. The problem with the film, the reason The Kids Are All Right is a bad movie and its Golden Globe Awards (as a comedy?!) are a pathetic commentary on the bankruptcy of Hollywood is that, any way you slice it, the film is poorly made and all but contradicts its apparent thesis that, so long as two people love one another and stick out the tough times, then whatever.

Let’s start at the end: After a series of plot twists, the two women, on the verge of breaking up, seem to decide to remain together, thus proving, or so the filmmakers imply, that a same-sex marriage is just like any other committed relationship. It may have its ups and downs, but two thoughtful, compassionate people can make it work, and bravo for the two of them. Bravo, America! The two heterosexual women with whom I saw the film on demand last night both found the film unsatisfying. Agreeing with them, I stuck out my politically incorrect neck and tried to explain why:

The plot is driven by two human desires. First, early in the film, the two teenage children conspire to contact their father, the sperm donor, and once they do so, a bond quickly forms among the three of them—father, daughter, son—that is the purest of all human bonds in the movie. (The bond between Bening’s and Moore’s characters is weak-to-nonexistent when it isn’t sado-masochistic.) The scenes of father-child interaction are the happiest in the film, the ones that truly touch the heart. If these two teenagers are any model, then children need a father. This is not my moralistic interpretation. This is precisely what the script by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg says, as directed by Cholodenko.

The second fundamental human desire that drives the plot is the desire of woman for man (and here comes a spoiler if you care). When the women’s son discovers that they watch gay porn and asks the obvious question—WHY?!—Moore says that, while love is an interior experience, a woman sometimes needs a more visible, physical, outward expression of love, holding up her forearm like a phallus. Thirty minutes later, the plot finds Moore in bed with Ruffalo, quite willingly, and quite fulfilled, thank you, sir. Multiple sex scenes ensue, showing two people enjoying and fully satisfied by their physical intimacy. Compared with these, earlier scenes of Bening and Moore in the sack play like love between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow in a script by Samuel Beckett.

Again desire drives the plot, and this is where the filmmakers lose their way. Because of course Bening uncovers her partner’s infidelity; their relationship goes temporarily on the rocks; and the casualty ultimately is Ruffalo, the father, and his beautiful bond with his kids. In his final scene, he is banished from the household, and the film concludes with the same-sex nuclear family driving the daughter to college. Although the characters end the film with game smiles on their faces, staring out windows from the four corners of the family car, there is a feeling of wistfulness, of emptiness underlying the “correct” thought that same-sex marriage is OK.

No, it isn’t, and not because the Pilot or even the Pope says so, but because this film says so! Gay marriage is shown to be wrong precisely because as an ideology it is baldly contradicted by the most profound and fundamental human experience. Children need a father. A woman needs a man and vice versa. The Kids Are All Right shows these two statements to be true in a moving, convincing way by using them as the two drivers of plot. Then it invalidates both. The Kids may be all right, but Cholodenko and Blumberg’s film makes no sense.

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About Webster Bull

Webster Bull is a writer and publisher living in Beverly, Massachusetts, north of Boston. His latest book is "Something in the Ether: A Bicentennial History of Massachusetts General Hospital, 1811-2011," to be published in April 2011. You can follow Webster on Facebook.
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  1. Sexuality is not black and white. Oftentimes a straight person may find themselves sexually attracted to the same sex and act on it. What about that? Julianne Moore’s character was confused and lonely and made a terrible choice, like all cheaters do. Then she ends up with Annette Benning – a woman, because she is a lesbian. Saying gay marriage is wrong and that a woman needs a man and vice versa is ignorant. I agree that it is important that children have both a mother and father figure in their lives, however it’s not impossible to obtain that in a gay upbringing. For example, many couples who are gay with children might encourage a relationship with someone of the opposite sex in their childrens lives. This movie is the fictional story, and a boring one at that, of one gay family. Not every gay family is like this.

    Also, take into consideration that many children are born with just one parent and they come out just fine. Personally, I am a woman raised by a straight, single woman and there is nothing wrong with me. I am happy, successful and very compassionate. My mother is a loving parent and thank god no one criticized her for raising me as a single mom, so what is the difference between my father-less upbringing and the children who are raised father-less in a lesbian home? Homophobia, that’s what.

    If the love is there, that’s enough to be grateful for.

  2. Regina,
    How do you know what you missed without a father in the home? My wife’s biological father left when she was three. She never had a connection to any of the men her mother hooked up with and had only sisters and half-sisters for siblings. It wasn’t until she saw me as a father to our sons that she realized she had missed something important in her life. The complimentary attributes that a male brings to femaleness. Maybe it isn’t criticizing to say that it might have been better if you had a loving, caring biological father in your life. Your mother sounds like a wonderful parent, but her job might have been a hell of a lot easier and you might have gained even more from having both biological (biology is important as it gives us a bond to our children stronger than a step parent gains from marriage) parents in your life. It is not homophobia to express the opinion that the best thing for children is to be raised by their two biological parents, who created them out of love, take raising the children in love as a sacred duty, and who prioritize their life around the needs of the family, not just the needs of the relationship between the two adults.

  3. Regina: there’s a big difference between a single mother and a lesbian couple. The single mother does not choose (hopefully) to raise the kids without a father. She has no choice because he left or died or isn’t involved or is abusive and she cannot stay with him. The lesbian couple, like the male gay couple, like the single mother who chooses artificial insemination, all have something different in common: they decide to have a child for their own sake without regard to the child’s God-given right to two parents, a mother and father, who love each other and live him/her.

  4. Dev – not cool, bad form. Regina – well put.

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