Wednesday, January 26, 2011

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Runtime: 105 min.
Verdict: Underneath its slick all forward tolerant crust, is a regressively conservative mind. Not all is right.
Genre: Comedy, Drama

        Everything is definitely not all right here. We seem to have a pretty tolerant household around here, centering around a lesbian couple who have each mothered a child, and where the dominant line of thinking is represented by a remark by one of the moms Jules (Ms. Moore) to her son Laser (Mr. Hutcherson) – “I wish you were gay, you would be much more sensitive.” I wouldn’t pretend here that I understand homosexuality, but then to each his own. What is interesting is that the prevalent order of sexuality is the straight one, and the gay ones probably represent X-Men. Or yeah, vice versa. The Kids Are All Right might be about a supposedly tolerant lesbian couple who are frank and open and treat their children with apparent respect, but what it reveals is a scenario where the prevalent sexual order is reversed. Would the homosexuals be just as kind if it is their turn, when it is their turn?
        Why I ask is because Jules and Nic (Ms. Bening) seem to exhibit the exact kind of liberal values that crack when the issue is their personal lives. As so it happens, Jules falls in love with Paul (Mr. Ruffalo), or rather Jules begins to have everyday makeout sessions with Paul. This is a predicament that is much more complex than an open and shut case of cheating, and the way the film sidetracks this very, very important issue of Jules’ sexuality and conveniently pushes it under the blanket of infidelity, and ultimately resolves it by a simple resurgence of their lesbian love is not merely surprising, but probably even objectionable. I mean, hello, it is not about being an Indian and cheering for South Africa in the World Cup, it is more like being bored by cricket and instead switching over to football. Jules represents the traditional female of the family, the mother and the housewife. It is Nic who gets to be the patriarchal figure, coming late in the evening from work, sitting at the head of the table and the one to set the mood and initiate the night’s sexual activity. Even a sequence involving licking what Jules (The Samuel El Jackson in Pulp Fiction) called the holiest of holies is not included for what it is, but to rather show the gender equation in this lesbian relationship. Ms. Cholodenko here seems to be making a statement. I guess my study of porn might be taking a toll on me here, but the position assumed in a bed for enjoying an oral session is vastly different. A woman usually is lying flat on her back, probably even clutching the pillow, while the male is doing stuff. Now, a man enjoying wouldn’t be lying flat, but rather would be sitting upright. Here is Nic at the receiving end of the act.


        One would expect that in a household as this, where two females live, or say two guys live, the marriage equation would be a lot more balanced. Not that I know anything about homosexuality, or how Mr. Elton John and Mr. David Furnish go about their daily lives, but when things have come to a place where Jules feels a lot of underappreciated, so much so that she starts to have sex with Paul who’s only way of conversation with her seems to be appreciation, I’m not so sure what we have here is anything different from a traditional patriarchal family, where the patriarch gets to be a male. I agree, my argument’s frame of reference seems to be a stereotype, but these are college bred lesbians, and even in their love story, we feel for Jules who is just not able to take care of herself. Maybe, I’m politicizing ends here, and equating lesbianism with a liberalism so far ahead it is bordering on bohemianism, but I’m find it difficult to gather my thoughts around the nature of democracy within this couple.
        What makes the situation worse is the symbolism that is loaded on to Paul. We’ve Nic and Jules getting turned on by gay porn, where super chiseled men wearing helmets do the stuff. Now, I wouldn’t have noticed anything were it not for the peculiarity of the helmets, as if Ms. Cholodenko wants to highlight in bold the resemblance. Here’re four frame grabs, with Paul flanking the porn studs.





        Now, even without the helmet a claim could be made with the motorcyclists in the porn to be a representation of the same stud Paul is with his BMW bike, as Mr. Armond White has done in his review. What is significant is the implications such a connection, if any, makes, considering the couple obviously has a penchant for these ultra masculine guys, and Jules, who’s the female (the emotionally dependant) in the relationship, falls for such a guy.
        One also ought to consider the casual jokey tone the movie assumes with the supposed cheating sequences, where any hint of any morality of conscience clearly bypassed me. Even in a obviously comedy movie like Secrets of my Success, where the boss’ wife is desperate for the Michael J. Fox’s character, we at least tend to feel the frail ends of morality being dispelled away in this upper society sexual warfare. But here, in what is a drama with witty touches, the cheating is just an act. Absolutely fine from this liberal land, but then why question Jules’ sexual choice? I agree, we’re dealing in a whole lot of stereotypes here, and not merely of this hip lifestyle but the traditional lifestyle of ours. But then, so does Jules when she fires the gardener, which is again a clear indication by the film of her double standards. What I cannot get around as to why Jules needs to be an emotionally dependent, or why there isn’t more equality between the two. There are the kids here, and they provide a fantastic contrast, tolerant and forgiving. Probably, they even justify the title. You should see how young Joni (Ms. Wasikowska) carries the hat to her college. But then, who are kids here? Nic, who’s so desperate to be the father around here, bossing around? Or Jules, who’s looking for validation everywhere? Maybe Ms. Cholodenko is drawing a contrast, and exposing the double standards. Maybe, I’m ignorant of the fact that every relationship has an arc. But then, why ignore Jules’ sexual act so conveniently?
        Oh, by way of performances, a little suggestion – every movie should have Mark Ruffalo.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

You've used Nic many times for Jules.

I liked the movie. I loved both the kids.

man in the iron mask said...

Thanks Anon. Turns out I did a real hack-job with the replace thingy. All changed.

Speaking of names, I hope I no longer have to call you anonymous. Care to mention about yourself?

Atrisa said...

From what I read, it clearly sounds like a case of heteronormativity. The non-clarity in sexual orientation is being covered up by cheating which hints towards the writer's view of a heterosexual relationship being superior to a homosexual one.

Haven't seen the movie, actually it has been recommended to me, it is expected by them that I'll like it :) Maybe it is more sensitively handled than you speak!

Just Another Film Buff said...

What a hollow movie. Classic case of Emperor and his clothes. Hey it's a movie about lesbians made by a lesbian filmmaker. So it has to be true. If you object, you are not being open minded enough.

LC simply reverses what has always been the norm of classic Hollywood: A hetero relationship/ traditional family disrupted by strange events (in the case of Hitch, usually a homo disruption) and which is finally restored to normalcy thanks to the hero. LC does not seem to know that this strategy means nothing. Sad that a celebrated, supposedly progressive, feminist, lesbian movie fails the Bechdel test

If we are going to close our eyes like children and pretend that all is normal in this lesbian kingdom, we are only fooling ourselves. While we are at it, why not remake Ben Hur with blacks or It's a Wonderful Life with all Muslim characters? If the point of making this was to prove that films on lesbians could be made without droning about oppression and marginalization, then we have a very bad eyesight here. LC almost ends up hinting that many lesbians are merely repressed into being lesbians.

Anonymous said...

Why does everyone say this is a brilliant movie?

Somewhere is much better.

man in the iron mask said...

That's so true Srikanth. I was thinking about all the pretentious cutie-talk -"My peacock", and so on, and how the movie talks about anything but the male.
Something here's way way disturbing, and the way people are receiving it, and celebrating it.

man in the iron mask said...

I wouldn't know Anon. I tried Somewhere for a while, but neither the film nor I went anywhere. So I thought why waste the real estate on my laptop hard drive, and pressed the shift and delete button together.
That was as far as I went within Somewhere

Anonymous said...

I liked the overall feel of 'Somewhere'.
I liked the monotony, slowness, lethargy, no idea why...

I liked Stephen Dorf's eternal boredom.

But the ending messed everything...

Just Another Film Buff said...

Interesting that anon brings up SOMEWHERE here. Both these films share one common trait (apart from of course being incompetently directed by women directors): both fail primarily because of a simple misunderstanding.

LC's film doesn't understand the difference between subversion and playfulness and SC's film doesn't understand the difference between alienation and loneliness. Simple as that.

man in the iron mask said...

Thanks Anon!! :)

Amar said...

I liked the movie. I enjoyed it, 'cause of Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo. As for the lesbian issue, I don't think it's much of a 'disease' for TKAAR viewer.

man in the iron mask said...

The question is not about sexual orientation Amar. It is about the pseudo-liberal values on display here, which in reality are as oppressive as fifty years before.

And neither do I buy that, nor do I like that.

Anusha said...

I did not know anything about the movie when I watched it. At the end of it I did feel there was actually nothing especially lesbian about the story or characters! I dismissed it thinking it was perhaps a marketing/publicity stunt for otherwise who cares about watching just a movie about a regular couple in yet another marriage raising kids anymore?

So, with that out of the way, I had no problem liking the movie per se. I have seen plenty of women (as well as men) in a man-women relationship who're like Nic. And when married to such Nics, Jules is usually what the spouse - wife/husband - looks like. I also know these cool Paul-like characters (guys/gals) outside of family or somewhere in its periphery, that kids instantly take to and adore. They come into the lives briefly and often late, and sweep them off their feet and make it difficult for the boring and disciplining parents-of-everyday-life to handle their own kids when they're around. In all these aspects, the film made sense to me and so I liked it. Some moments that I liked - Joni's reaction before and after first meeting Paul, Lazer (I too found the name cool, btw) and Paul talking about burial vs cremation during basketball, Paul asking Nic to relax a bit on restrictions when he drops off Joni in his bike, Joni searching for the trio in her university dorm.

I totally agree about the cheating part - did not understand or like that one bit. Most Hollywood movies use adultery quite generously and frivolously so for anything and everything they want to say or avoid saying. I did not like the whole "lazer, are you gay" set of scenes. Nor did I get what exactly was Nic's problem with organic food?

Anonymous said...

"The Kids are All Right" is a parody of "The Big Lebowski." Case closed.

man in the iron mask said...

Anonymous, that was flashy! Care to explain?