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07/12/2010

I don't mind other guys dancing with my girl♪ -'The Kids Are Alright', The Who

by Jeremy Hooper

First and foremost let me say this: The kids are, indeed, alright. As are the parents. As are the actors that bring all four to rich, vibrant life.

The-Kids-Are-All-Right-Poster-1The Kids Are All Right is at times fun, at times poignant, at times touching. Perhaps most importantly: The arc rings mostly real throughout the entire film. The lesbian parents and their two children make up a true, relatable family structure that will surely resonate with audiences who may not have ever met an LGBT family before. If you read the (largely positive) reviews, you will surely hear many critics lauding the fact that leads Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are not "playing gay": They're instead playing three dimensional human beings. And that's a totally true assessment. Both actresses bring their gifts to these roles, the same way they have to many other powerful female characters during their storied careers.

But as you might be expecting from this setup, I do have some (vegetarian) beef with the flick. A grumble that didn't make me leave the theater feeling like I had wasted my time or that have led me to write off the film, by any stretch of the imagination. I liked the picture. Honestly. However, it's my grumbles that have been most fully moving my mind in the three days since I screened it, so it's the grumbles that must now leave my cranium and spill out here.

My problem is two-fold:

*SPOILER ALERT*

(1) Once again, we have a mainstream LGBT script that revolves around infidelity

(2) Said infidelity also involves something that is waaaaaay too familiar with lesbian filmgoers. Namely: A lady lover who gets it on with a man.

Now, a few acknowledgements: Yes, infidelity is a plot line in many, many, many films. Yes, infidelity is present in many, many lives. Yes, sometimes lesbians do hook up with men, for whatever reason. Yes, all of these situations are fit to be mined for screenwriting purposes. Obviously.

But here's the thing: The stereotype of gay people being incapable/non-desirous of monogamy is so incredibly prevalent in modern entertainment, it's no wonder that some question whether or not the concept of same-sex relationship fidelity even exists. It's ALWAYS a plot line. Even when it's incredibly ridiculous for it to be a plot line, like in this summer's Sex And The City 2, where gay-wedded characters Stanford and Anthony say they have an incredibly obnoxious setup that allows for the former to have whatever opulent wedding he wants just as long as the latter is allowed to "cheat." Sometimes it's an agreement or an open relationship, and sometimes (like in the case of TKAAR) it's a broken trust. But whatever the story, In TV, in film, in plays: Straying is a plot device from which few gay-themed screenwriters ever seem to want to stray.

Then there's the overlapping-but-separate element of the "lesbian goes back to men" meme. In the East Village theater where I saw the flick, a large contingent of the female, presumably lesbian-heavy audience literally hissed when the hookup unexpectedly hit the screen. Loudly. Hissed at the screen. And honestly, I totally got it. I, a gay man, am not even someone who has seen every single piece of lesbian media under the sun, yet I still full well know that this "power of penis" notion is a gagillion times more prevalent in scripts than it is in life. And that's typically how it's presented, too: Like penis is the one thing leaving the lesbian character unfilled (no pun intended). That is certainly not the experience I've had with the literally thousands of lesbians I have met in my lifetime! At all. And especially not among middle-aged mothers of two who've been monogamously partnered for a couple of decades (as Bening and Moore's characters have).

Now, I've made it no secret that I, Jeremy, am someone who places a high premium/demand on monogamy in my personal marriage. But honestly, that's not the place from which I am acting here. I'm coming from the position of a consumer of LGBT media. As a filmgoer. As someone who experiences life. From that perspective: The cheating concept felt incredibly lazy. I saw a million different other options for how they could've thrown these characters into crisis, even involving the exact same three participants who are involved in the sexual triangle. So I just couldn't believe that co-screenwriters Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko (the latter, an out lesbian, who also serves as the director) went this overfamiliar route with this script. With this family. With this story.

And then as for the back-to-cock thing: Again, it rang much easier and lazier than it rang true. It seemed to serve the male character's personality far more than it served the lesbian mom, at least as she had been presented up to that point. For me it was like "WHAM, DIDN'T EXPECT THAT!" and not in a good or captivating way. At best, it was somewhat cartoony. At worst, it felt like there was a cut scene involving a lobotomy. Yes, it was somewhat of a consolation when said lesbian character broke off the short-lived affair by matter-of-factly declaring that she is, in fact, gay. But only somewhat.

I truly hope everyone will see the film, because there is so, so much to like about it. It's actually to the film's credit and strength that this one MAJOR plot development could annoy me so much, yet not take away from the fact that I still liked the film (and not just me, I overheard many of those same "hissing" women praising the film afterwards).

And perhaps it's not 100% fair to pin this on this one film, since my opinion is skewed not by this one instance, but rather by all that has come before it.

But art is meant to spark conversation. And for me, these particular LGBT media clichés do constitute a needed one.

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