Lyn and I finally went out to see “The Kids are All Right” over the weekend. We got a babysitter and everything. Since we’re behind the times, we really don’t want to write another review. There are lots of good ones out there, including reviews from Mombian and Lesbian Dad. We agree: it’s a good movie and you should go and see it.
There are a few things in particular about the movie that struck us. Like Lyn and I, Nic and Jules in the movie did a “switcheroo,” in which first one mom got pregnant and gave birth, then the other. Director Lisa Cholodenko takes great pains to tell us and show us which mom gave birth to which child. First there is the similar coloring between each mom and her genetic offspring, and there are the few times it comes up explicitly in the movie (for instance when Jules accuses Nic of thinking Laser is a loser just like Jules because of their genetic connection). Cholodenko also repeatedly seats each mom next to her biological child.
After the movie we felt a little put out by this insistence on connecting the genetic dots for the viewer and wondered if Cholodenko was fracturing this family unnecessarily. But ultimately we decided that the sometimes subtle connecting of those dots was a key element of the film. Those genetic ties were clearly important to the structure of the family — this was a family with a slight crack down the middle, but one that was still ultimately (mostly) solid and whole. Genetic relationships are important in our families. In my family, I never “forget” that Leigh is my genetic child or that Ira is not. Pretending that those aren’t important facts about our family is an unnecessary pretense. Cholodenko places a reasonable emphasis on the genetic ties — they are part of the foundation of the family in the film, sometimes on display in an obvious way and sometimes seen more subtly. Like all families created through donor insemination, genetics plays a role that can sometimes be painful, but it is not the most important part of our families.
We learned a little something from the film as well, which can best be summed up as, “Don’t sleep with the donor.” This movie was in some ways a donor insemination nightmare, but imagine what the story would have been like if Jules and Paul hadn’t had their ridiculously ill-fated affair. Two teenage children of lesbian parents make contact with their donor and find a thread of connection that seems positive for all of them. If those were my kids, I think I’d be happy, and excited about the possibility of free organic produce. It wouldn’t make a great movie, but as far as a possible vision of our future, it wasn’t actually all that scary.
Interestingly, the moms in the film did not have this reaction. They were horrified and wanted the donor to go away. That is, until Jules got the hots for him. One of the first sparks of sexual energy between them is when Jules notes that she can see her kids in Paul. This struck me because I could conceivably imagine feeling the same way, minus the who affair crap. I realized recently that my feelings about the donor have changed from very negative because I felt his invisible presence in our lives was intrusive, to much more positive because of the love that I feel for two people that he helped bring into the world. I honestly can’t imagine what feelings I would have if I ever actually met him; I know my feelings would be intense and overwhelming, but I don’t think my initial reaction would be to want him to just go away.
I also think this movie had a lot to say about what it means to be a family. After the beginning of the affair between Jules and Paul, it is obvious that Paul realizes that he wants a family and sees an opportunity to get a great, ready-made family. He seems to think, “Hey, I already have kids after all, so if I just fall in love with one of the moms I’m all set.” After the discovery of the affair by Nic and the kids, Paul suggests to Jules that they can just go for it, making a family of their own. But Paul doesn’t understand what it means to be part of this family. If things had gone differently, he might have been able to forge a lasting connection, but he made the mistake of thinking that his sperm made him a part of the family automatically. Instead, when he turned out to be a threat to the family, the entire family shut him out completely. Even Jules, realizing how much she had screwed up, simply cut him off. The four of them — Jules, Nic, Laser, and Joni — were the real family, and if Paul wanted to join the family as some kind of honorary or extended member, he should have approached them with much more respect and care.
“The Kids Are All Right” certainly doesn’t show the world, in Joni’s words, “what a perfect lesbian family you are,” but it does show the world the possibility of a real lesbian family, warts and all.