I have a confession to make: before starting this column, I had only seen about 2 classic lesbian films. I know, I’m a bad queer. When I admitted this to my fellow GO coworkers, they were appalled. Two of them quickly listed off at least 10 films I needed to watch right away. I rapidly wrote down the titles (for research, obviously).
I want to take you all along with me in my quest to review all of the lesbian classics through my Millennial queer lens. Last week, I reviewed the not-even-worth-the-mention “Kissing Jessica Stein.”
This week, I watched “The Kids Are All Right,” join me for the ride!
If you’ve been following this series, then you know my frustration at watching lesbian films that center annoying cishet men and the male gaze. This week, I decided to go for something a little more modern with “The Kids Are All Right,” a 2010 film with Juliana Moore and Annette Bening playing a lesbian couple living their normal, American family life.
Moore plays Jules Allgood, a hopeful bisexual landscaper and hippie while Bening portrays Dr. Nicole ‘Nic’ Allgood, a lesbian OB/GYN specialist. Both of the women birthed a child into their family, using the same donor from a sperm bank.
Their now teenage kids, Joni and Laser, are planning a secret mission to meet their biological father. The sperm donor Paul is played by Mark Ruffalo, and seems to be a kid-at-heart organic farmer who never really grew up.
Joni and Laser meet up with Paul and Joni becomes enamored by his easy way of living and want to keep having a relationship with him.
“It still feels really shitty, like we’re not enough,” Nic says after the moms realize their kids met Paul. But they still decide to invite Paul over so their kids can feel accepted and loved. But it seems the person to really be bonding with Paul is Jules when he asks her to take on landscaping his unruly backyard.
As the tension in Jules and Nic’s relationship builds and Jules feels more and more unappreciated by Nic — her relationship with Paul gets amplified when she makes the move to kiss him. For Jules, he feels more supportive of her landscaping dreams and has more time to spend with her than Nic.
The reality is that Nic and Jules have been raising their kids for 18 years and Paul is entering the situation with no experience in parenting trying to assert himself as a fatherly figure for the kids. I totally get why Nic gets defensive and upset about trying to integrate him into their lives.
I think what I appreciate most about this film is that it’s really real. It shows a real queer family struggling with things that real couples go through. Jules feels a loss of attraction and fills that void with Paul. Nic feels as though she’s losing her entire family to this man who came out of nowhere. It centers around a lesbian marriage but isn’t just about the torments of being gay. While the film is definitely slow moving, I appreciate the authenticity the plot creates. And it makes sense, because much of the story is driven from co-writer Lisa Cholodenko’s real life.
When Nic and the kids find out about Jules’ affair with Paul — they’re all incredibly angry with her. And deservedly so. But sometime’s relationships need to be cracked wide open in order to heal. That’s exactly what happens with Nic and Jules. Nic is finally able to see how she was hurting Jules by not really being present and Jules asks for forgiveness in her epic mistake of having an affair.
My favorite monologue of the entire film comes from Jules when she feels her relationship is falling apart. It speaks to powerfully to longterm love.
“Marriage is hard. It’s really fucking hard. Just two people slogging through the shit, year after year, getting older, changing. It’s a fucking marathon, okay? So, sometimes, you know, you’re together for so long, that you just… You stop seeing the other person. You just see weird projections of your own junk. Instead of talking to each other, you go off the rails and act grubby and make stupid choices. Which is what I did but I love your mom so fucking much. Sometimes you hurt the ones you love the most. I don’t know why… Anyways, I just wanted to say how sorry I am for what I did.”
While I’d definitely never advocate for an affair if you’re having relationship issues, this film is a brutally honest representation of the ebbs and flows of marriage. Queer or not. It makes such a powerful statement that our lives have struggles and also beauty in them.
Ultimately, the film ends when Joni goes off to college, her two moms driving her while smiling at each other and holding hands. *Swoons for a happy ending in a lesbian film.*
It is worth the note, though, that even the lesbian representation we get that feels ~authentic~ and ~real~ for our actual lives and relationships — this film STILL found a way to center a cishet man in the plot. Not to sound like a constant feminist killjoy, but I am still waiting for a lesbian rom-com or drama that passes the Bechdel test and doesn’t simply focus on the pains of coming out. PLEASE, for the love of Sappho — create this magic or you’ll force me into becoming a film director.