The Ugly Truth About Why the Kids are All Right

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The Ugly Truth About Why the Kids are All Right

designation as a "lesbian film," made by the inevitably essentialized figure of the "lesbian director," Lisa Cholodenko? Through this mainstream marketing lens, Cholodenko invariably carries the burden of lesbian representation, and “realistic” if not positive representation at that. What if we instead construe the film as a potentially astute political and social satire about the possibilities and pitfalls of family formations? If we switch over to this interpretative path—a stubbornly reparative one—we could look closer at the ugliness the film conveys to broader, mainstream audiences about the costs and horrors of normativity in all its guises.

In the spirit of wrongs turned right, here are some of the truly ugly things about queers that drew us in to The Kids are All Right:

1. Lesbians can have really boring sex, just like anyone else. 

Alas, it's true: sometimes all the sex toys and props in the world just can't jazz up the long-term mojo. We too would be more than happy to see “the best lesbian sex” on screen. But what would that be? For whom would it be? 

In The Kids are All Right, Cholodenko actually makes an incredibly smart intertextual intervention that references the vexed representational history of lesbian sex on screen. When explaining why lesbian porn is unappealing to their son Laser after he finds gay male porn in their bedroom (not to mention a pyrotechnic dildo), Jules and Nic summarize the problem neatly: two straight women are hired to depict lesbian sex for straight men.

Two straight women like Bening and Moore, for example. 

Many of our colleagues lamented the disparate degrees of purported “hotness” in the homo and hetero sex scenes in The Kids are All Right. Yet in our view, these scenes are less about contrasting “lesbian” with “straight” sex as they are about comparing “married sex” with extramarital sex. The long-termers’ encounter looks more conjugal and perfunctory, whereas sex outside the couple appears more spontaneous, urgent, even desperate. Mostly because extramarital sex often is. What if the depiction of extramarital sex were between Jules and another woman? Might it not contain the same desperation, improvisation and even hints of violence as her assignations with Paul?

Ultimately, who knows what choices Cholodenko could and didn't make; but perhaps the unsexy lesbian/married couple sex, contrasted with the hyper-phallic

Comments [5]

Fillyjonk's picture

It's nice to see a sensible,

It's nice to see a sensible, thoughtful analysis of this movie...

I thought the backlash the film faced was incredibly over-zealous- regardless of one's opinion of the story or political subtext, it was still an intelligent and interesting drama. It's unjustifiable for the gay community to react with untempered hatred to something with these sorts of basic credentials. We need MORE mainstream queer films which are textured, subtle and multilayered- so please God, let's not shout them down on the rare occasions that they come along!

Robin Rigby's picture

A balanced review. If

A balanced review. If somewhat too dense for me to proces in my current, mildly drunken state. 

I decided to screen this film as part of my lesbian film group last year. We did it in conjunction with Family Matters, the gay parenting group at the LGBT center. I wanted to screen it particularly because of the mixed (and quite vocal) reactions it had received. Personally, I found it occasionally humorous, sometimes uncomfortable, and very flawed on a story level- one that has nothing to do with it's lesbian content. 

FYI, I liked Cholodenko's Laurel Canyon, I am not a fan of High Art

Joanne Robertson's picture


a thoughtful, balanced analysis of this film.  What a relief.

The collective lost their faculties over this movie.  What annoyed me during this time was how many lesbian sheeple proudly declared they hadn't seen the film, but hated it, and had no intention of seeing it, because a few prominent lesbians (some of whom also hadn't yet seen it) had flamed about the storyline.

Some declared they will boycott Cholodenko's future work.  It was a typical "throw the baby out with the bathwater" response, not unlike with Chaiken & her L Word brand.

Marcie Bianco's picture

true that, JR -- lesbians

true that, JR -- lesbians really do eat their own. ... so mean ... why is that?

Joanne Robertson's picture

Well, it's easy

to take everything personally - this may have something to do with swimming in such an incestuous little fishbowl... even online.

In terms of how we hold 'our' writers/directors to such a high standard, we just have to get over this notion that everything they put out there is representing us as a "community".  An impossible standard, since they're usually writing about individuals - flawed characters, or filming real life flawed humans for reality tv. 

I no longer hand-wring about how heteros are perceiving this or that in a storyline.  It's very freeing lol