The Ugly Truth About Why the Kids are All Right

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The Ugly Truth About Why the Kids are All Right

case of The Kids are All Right it might have actually worked to underscore her critique of masculinity. Part of what may feel unsatisfying, uncomfortable or not toothsome enough about The Kids are All Right is that it critiques masculinity while letting “actual” men get away with too much (especially the interloping bio-man embodied by Paul). The Kids are All Right critiques masculinity regardless of its (un)successful embodiments—e.g. Nic’s/Benning’s “failed” butch aesthetics—by reminding us how much the power and coercive force of masculinity, even female masculinity, can have very little to do with hair, clothes, make-up or a lack thereof, but everything to do with money, career, ambition and the performance of paternity. 


The Kids are All Right is, as we said at the outset, an ugly film. Or rather, it reveals the ugliness at the heart of queer and bourgeois-boheme fantasies about being different, and yet not. Nic and Jules may have formed an “alternative” family, but it still functions to securitize, protect and police the very notion of “family” itself. Paul may be a nice, quirky guy—an reconstituted, “alterna-dude” who grows organic veggies and runs a green, locally-sourced restaurant—but none of that means he isn’t a total douche. He’s still a bio-man who benefits from all the accommodations the world makes for “creative” guys like him; from the discarded people of color in the film with whom he professes to be “down,” to the lesbians who never quite banished the power of masculinity from their own lived structure. In the end, we aren’t supposed to like these people or by extension and implication, ourselves, very much.

And yet Cholodenko dwells on all of this damage in a way that forces us to look long and hard, and maybe even laugh at ourselves as we confront the terrible realization of how fucked up we queer (neo)liberals can truly be. We may not always see ourselves, or even see what we want to see about ourselves in her films. Those of us who aren’t moneyed and/or white Angelenos would be especially hard pressed to do so. But what makes The Kids Are All Right compelling for us, if not consonant with our views of life, love and the world, is how uncomfortable it makes us feel when we actually do experience the tiniest moments of self-recognition within these characters, within their words, within their failures and their actions; when we catch a glimpse of ourselves doing terrible things in order to exert a tighter grasp on the people, places and things we imagine belong to us alone. 

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