The Kids Are All Right: Where Moms Are A Couple, By Any Other Name

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The Kids Are All Right: Where Moms Are A Couple, By Any Other Name

Because interaction can’t exist in a vacuum, it seems fair to say human activity is defined by relationship. To self, to other, to the inanimate or agile. To time. Mostly, explorations of relationship in cinema revolve about romance.

How famished we must all be, for a broader release of all KINDS of relationship; those that make Philosophy and Visual Art appealing but poor substitutes for the real thing. It has been easier to market a Drama of Relationship than unspool modern threads: the relationships between emotions and decisions that shape what we do now, who we are today. Beyond  prosocial emotion — waves in that undertow of beingness that shapes being in itself. 

Kelly Reichardt’s films are riveting for taking on that challenge: of exploring human relationships beyond friendship and romance. Wendy and Lucy for example: Lucy the dog is the pivotal partner of Wendy’s unraveling. Old Joy seemed as much about relation to place and timing as the arc of friendship. Sparse and clean of cinematic gloss, Reichardt’s films enable a contemplation that I’ve heard described as "boring".  Well, as with anything in life: complacency is exactly that, boring. Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right reminded me of the intense awareness in Kelly Reichardt’s filming style. If to direct is to invoke, these three films do just that.

Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right is receiving backlash from audiences regarding its dismal portrayal of a lesbian relationship. Only this film isn’t really about lesbian relationships — it’s a story about a particular struggle at a particular time in the (r)evolutions of a couple.

A marriage is  more than “two people, slogging through the shit”, as Jules declares near the end of the film. This couple just happens to be in some seriously deep slog. Lesbian or not, that is human relationship: real couples go through cycles of timing. Or the lack of. Couples with children are challenged by all KINDS of timing, which is inherently addressed in the film’s title reference song: someone is usually left behind with the kids.

Although the only lesbian sex scene didn’t represent sapphic love at its best, or even at all, it was a realistic depiction of how disconnected couples can become through expectation. Primarily, the film highlights the aftermath of  tipping points: first daughter leaving home for college, the maternal struggling with identity, the paternal mismanaging overwhelm and pressure.  We see how banality and invisibility can appear in commitment (Nic and Jules) contrasted to how empty and shallow free-spirited sex becomes (Paul, the sperm donor).

Comments [15]

writergabriel's picture

The Moms are All Right

Very thoughtful and well-written review. Thanks!

I saw this movie yesterday and loved it. The story is a winner and is very creative. Not standard Hollywood fare. I thought Lisa Cholodenko did an amazing job writing and directing. And Annette Bening and Julliane Moore were incredible and true to character. Of course it wasn't perfect. But I think there's reason to celebrate anytime a woman gets to co-write and direct a movie and it goes mainstream.

Susan Gabriel
author of Seeking Sara Summers

(a novel about falling in love with your best friend)

SMBrown's picture


Patricia, thanks for providing a counter-balance to the feeding frenzied backlash to The Kids.  And also for refocusing the attention on what IS there, rather than what isn't.  

I understand some of the more political criticisms of the film, and I think it's made for some interesting discussions, but I'm also tired of everyone projecting their own beliefs/issues onto the film and finding it, and the filmmaker, lacking.   This is not the only lesbian film ever made!  And this is not the only lesbian-themed film this director has made.  

I think it's important when viewing any piece of art to place it in the context of an artist's overall oeuvre.  Because that's how art gets created.  Not, as you so rightly point out, in a vacuum.  You want to see a lesbian movie that isn't about a 'bourgeois' married couple with kids who are experiencing bed death?  Then watch High Art, i.e. Cholodenko has already made that film and has moved on.  

p.s. Loved Wendy and Lucy, but haven't seen the rest of Kelly's work, so need to check it out--thanks for the reminder!

Steph's picture

I loved 'Wendy and Lucy' too

I loved 'Wendy and Lucy' too and in fact only saw it for the first time a couple of weeks back. I thought Michelle (can't remember her second name) was brilliant in it!

patricia's picture

Her name is...

Michelle Williams, of Broke Back Mountain fame, and ... some WB teen show that I never saw...Dawson's Creek? Michelle Williams is an amazing actress...

Steph's picture

Yes, she really is. I am not

Yes, she really is. I am not sure how many other actresses could have carried a film like W&L.

(I was actually a big Dawson's Creek fan - which is probably something I shouldn't declare in public as I am sure it was aimed at an audience a little younger than me.....)

Steph's picture

Great blog!  This film isn't

Great blog!  This film isn't out over here yet (I had to settle for the mildly entertaining dross that is Knight and Day at the weekend ) but I am really looking forward to seeing it.

SMBrown's picture

Steph, I was entertained by

Steph, I was entertained by Knight and Day as well, I somewhat shamefully admit.  It got skewered by the critics here, but for what it was I thought it wasn't half-bad.  I saw it on a double-bill with Inception, which I literally fell asleep during--go figure, it's been getting all the good reviews and people have been flocking to it.  

Robin Rigby's picture

I thought "Knight & Day" was

I thought "Knight & Day" was amusing as well. I did not fall asleep during "Inception" though. Smile I heard some folks couldnt follow the plot of "Inception" but I didn't have a problem with that. I did think it maybe got unnecessarily complicated. It could've had a few fewer layers & been less complicated but more suspenseful. They spent too much time explaining the dream within a dream within a dream thing maybe. I liked the psych aspects of Leo's wife's insanity though. Nice touch.

SMBrown's picture

Robin, I didn't really have a

Robin, I didn't really have a problem following the plot either, I just wasn't very interested.  I felt ZERO emotional connection to the characters and hence didn't give a flying monkey what happened to them.  I also thought Ellen Page was HORRIBLY miscast, not to mention that her character's sole purpose was to provide exposition.  I liked maybe one scene, near the end, between Leo and Maria Cotillard, but lordy that was a LONG 2 1/2 hours, even with a nap! 

Robin Rigby's picture

Ellen Page is awesome and I

Ellen Page is awesome and I do think she was underused in this.  Overall, I think it got mired in it's own cleverness.  

Did you see Salt?  I read a review that I was amazed was written by a woman.  I was surprised because she basically trashed the character for doing the exact same things as any man would do in any action movie.  I'm sorry but since when can't women do everything men can do, but backwards and in heels?  

Steph's picture

Well I somewhat shamefully

Well I somewhat shamefully admit that I really enjoyed the remake of 'The Karate Kid' and shed more than a few tears whilst watching! Yeah, I don't think 'Inception' is for me to be honest - I struggled to follow the plot of the Bourne trilogy!!

patricia's picture

Thanks, Steph!

Would love to read your thoughts on the film after you see it. I also love Julianne Moore—did you see her in 'A Single Man' by Tom Ford? 

Steph's picture

No, that film is on my list

No, that film is on my list of "must see" - in fact you've just reminded me to check out the DVD situation on that!  Yep, JM is brilliant - I think she is particularly good in 'The Hours'.

(I'll definitely send you my thoughts when I've seen TKAAR.)

patricia's picture

I've been meaning to bff you

I've been meaning to bff you since soccer's about time! 

Steph's picture


Yay!!! Smile