The kid’ll be all right

We were lucky enough to find a friend/neighbor to come over last night after Curly went to sleep so we could pop on down to our local movie theater and see The Kids Are All Right. I’ve heard from others that you either love this movie or hate this movie, so in typical Gemini fashion, I loved-hated it. I’m going to put the rest of this entry under a cut because I’m going in depth and if you haven’t seen it yet, it will spoil it for you (so if you’re on g.oo.gle reader and the following isn’t cut, stop reading now)

For those of you who don’t know, the movie is about a two mom family with two kids, both from the same sperm bank donor who agreed to release his identity when the kids turned 18. The daughter just turned 18 and is about to go off to college, but before she does, her 15 year old brother would like her to contact their donor so they can meet him.

I found myself to be very critical of this movie because it is a wide-release film starring two VERY well-known actresses, and therefore, it is going to influence how others see two mom families, for better and for worse. A little neuroses, a little drama, etc…that’s all well and good. I just thought it went overboard and in a wrong direction. I should add that Nutella and I differ in this regard…she sees it as art and does not feel it should be representational for our benefit at all. She was therefore more forgiving than I of what we saw as the film’s shortcomings.

I hated that when faced with challenges in their relationship, one of the two mothers jumped right into bed with their sperm donor, all while still clinging onto her identity as a lesbian.  Please tell me what lesbian sees an erect penis in her face and excitedly says ‘Oh HELLO!’ and then jumps on it. It just furthers the (false) stereotype that when faced with the right guy, any lesbian can change. If she were bi, I’d rather they just say so or allude to that instead. So that was my first problem. Secondly, I know that ‘bed death’ can be an issue for lesbian couples (or any couple!) down the road, but the one instance of sex they showed the mothers engaging in was boring, disconnected, spurred by pornography and of course, cut short (though admittedly, that moment was a funny one). Finally, both mothers had their neuroses, though Annette Bening’s character was straddling the line of being over-the-top…crazy, over-controlling and rude one minute, and charming, gentle and likable the next. Had the couple been a little more normal/average, had Julianne Moore’s character been more stable in her identity, I would’ve been more accepting. But it wasn’t. Sadly, I guess that doesn’t make for good entertainment.

I thought the kids were delightful and had no problem with them. I also liked how they navigated their relationships with their friends, their mothers and each other. I even thought the donor was totally believable as a late 30-something who never really matured. However, if we had used an ID-release sperm donor, I probably would be a bit freaked out after seeing this film. It really seemed to me like a PSA to not use an ID-release donor because it’s going to fuck everything up somehow. As the daughter said late in the movie, she wished the donor had been.. “better.” Both she and her brother tried so hard to see facets of themselves in the donor, and the brother was especially disappointed when the donor seemed only like a self-absorbed stranger. That disappointment got even worse when the donor slept with one of their moms and crumbled the whole family. Even though the donor tried to answer the boy’s question of why he donated in the first place with a ‘do-good/help people’ explanation, we all could see that he just needed the money at the time. As for Nutella and I, we know that is a huge reason why lots of 20-something donors do it, ours included, and why that’s a good reason to never have him be anything more to our son than that, along with his handwritten answers to the sperm bank’s questionnaire.

There was a lot of good about this movie- two women who obviously love each other, who raised two good, self-sufficient kids together whom they absolutely love, and the trials and tribulations of life and marriage in general. I just didn’t like how dysfunctional they were and the cheating with a man thing. Is it impossible to make a movie like this that is engaging without those things?

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21 responses to “The kid’ll be all right

  1. I agree completely. We just saw it on Thursday too and I was so disappointed in the part of the story line with the one mom and the donor. It bugged me so much – I am so sick of that storyline in lesbian shows and films. I mean, seriously, is this something that actually happens? I was so annoyed by it that I had a hard time enjoying the rest of the movie.

    Kim liked how it ended, proving that in the end the four of them were a family and they didn’t need the donor or a “dad”.

    I liked how well-adjusted the kids were in the movie and how there wasn’t any indication that they were traumatized by being children of a sperm donor… the boy was more curious than anything else. Their reactions to him seemed very natural. Kim found it interesting that only the boy really cared about meeting the donor.

    I found it interesting when they asked about something he said in his donor essay and he was like, “Oh, wow, that was a long time ago.” It kind of made me stop and realize that donors could turn out so different from how they are when they do the essays/interviews.

  2. You put into thoughtful words EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking about this movie. I get that they were trying to make it “real” and relatable, but what a sad statement on marriage that it must be passionless and miserable for people to relate to it. I honestly couldn’t identify with them at all and was bummed that as one of the only lesbian movies getting mainstream attention they portrayed same sex marriage as so blah and unhealthy.

    Though I will say that I’m still 100% glad we chose a willing-to-be-known donor 😉

  3. great review – i saw it and agreed with everything you wrote. one thing i think is funny is your feeling glad after seeing it that you used a non-ID release donor. i had the same reaction but on the other extreme – it made me really happy we used a known donor who will be peripherally always in our kids lives (hopefully!) so that there isn’t years of wondering about the donor and making him out to be some fantasy mr. perfect in their heads. I sort of love that we both had the same line of thinking- though very different circumstances of course – it shows how many ways there are for us to build families and do what feels right for each of our particular cases. thanks for another great post – i don’t comment much but always love reading along!

  4. I 100% agree with you on the cheating subplot. I found myself rolling my eyes and dissappointed because,sadly, many in this country are coulees about lesbian relationships and this will further stereotypes and false beliefs.

  5. Thanks for the review. I had a different reaction to the film. While I didn’t think it was perfect, I did think it was a great movie that is unfortunately saddled with being the only new mainstream Lesbian Movie in years. I think it had too much to live up to because most of the other movies out there with lesbian main characters are crap. I feel like I had to approach it “a movie” rather than a “lesbian movie” in order to appreciate it fully.

    I think what the movie is most about is a long term marriage. The partners are loving and well matched but are guilty of running on auto pilot for years. Like a lot of couples do at one time or another, each partner set expectations for the other – based on past behavior or anticipated behavior – that were limiting to the other. They each grew frustrated by the constraints and one of them ended up messing up in a pretty major way but both of them were guilty of letting the relationship get to that point.

    To me the fact that Jules cheated with a man was totally irrelevant to her sexual identity. I still bought her self-identity as lesbian. I thought it was a nuanced portrayal of the conflicts she felt in her relationship and life that when she came across this person who flirted with her and thought she was hot and good at her job that she responded to that. I thought that they pretty clearly showed that she wasn’t really into him – he was like a way for her to blow off steam and I’m glad they were explicit about that. Had they showed her ever wavering and falling for him, then I think it would have been an annoying plot line. I do think they could have made the movie successfully without the cheating (with a man), but it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. I also will say that I’m sure plenty of people across America seeing this movie won’t see it as I did and will see it as a lesbian finding the right man – I think this is where it’s a shame that there aren’t more movies with lesbians so one movie doesn’t have to be too perfect.

    It sounds like I was more into the characters than you were too – I thought Julianne Moore portrayed a recognizable type of wealthy liberal American that had the luxury of indecision about her life and Annette Bening did a good portrayal of a flawed type-A who wants control and then wants to make you feel bad that she’s shouldering too much burden in the family. I really got into their dynamic and the contradictions between their words and actions. And I totally agree that the kids were great – the characters and the acting.

    I think this is a monster-sized comment now – thanks for giving me some good thoughts to react to!

  6. Shannon- I, too, was hit by the fact that the donor said ‘that was a long time ago.’ It made me think of how much we’ve all changed since we were 19/20 years old. How different our paths are sometimes than where we originally thought we’d be. Another reason why we went for physical characteristics above all when choosing sperm, because a lot of that other stuff can generally change.

    mommie2b and liz- I totally understand why others may choose known or id-release donors, and certainly, what happened in the movie would not be typical. I think it’s great that we all 100% stand behind our choices even though they’re all different 🙂

  7. Ooh, we just saw this too, and I’ve been wanting to post about it. I had similar impressions about the Nic/Jules couple – one was so rigid, the other so flaky, it annoyed me. Tho’ Uno and I talked about how all the characters, true to Hollywood, were pretty extreme / stereotypical (the Latino gardner, the oversexed African-American waitress, etc). So, I could buy their portrayals. And I kept reminding myself that I shouldn’t be looking for the film to represent me exactly, though it’s hard not to feel the weight it carries, in terms of visibility. What annoyed me the most, in the first half of the movie, was their seeming inability to have a real conversation with each other or their kids. They’re women who’ve been married all this time (the movie even pokes fun at the cliche lesbian penchant for over-processing, given the way it portrays them hovering over their children) and they can’t process better? Specifically, I couldn’t believe they had (seemingly) never discussed the donor either with each other or with their kids. We did use an ID-release donor, and even pre-birth we are preparing for questions, reading, wondering how our kid will feel about him (if anything).

    I also worried that the film portrayed the introduction of the donor as nothing but disaster for the family, though I did find him fairly well-written, as a character. I liked best the second half of the movie – post-affair – in that it affirmed the integrity of the lesbian family unit. Despite the lack of any sexual connection, apparently, between the women (come ON, would it have killed them?? In a film full of sex?) The affair didn’t bother me as much as I thought, and I could accept that it wasn’t so much about sexuality as her current situation, but why couldn’t she and Nic have had some kind of encounter that showed *any* kind of attraction between them? The lust was all for the penis.

    Yep, the kids were the best part of the film, as you point out. Enough rambling from me!

  8. Olive- thanks for the long comment! I agree that it is unfortunate that this movie is saddled with being one of the very few portrayals of lesbians, and that definitely does effect what I expected from it. Your views are much closer to Nutella’s than mine, although I can see it from both sides.

    You’re right that their marriage was at the heart of the film, and I appreciated that. I still cannot get past a woman calling herself a lesbian and willingly jumping into bed with a man. It’s definitely an issue that 50 percent of people I’ve come across are ok with, and 50 percent are not. If she were not getting the fulfillment she needed in her marriage, I still think as a lesbian, she would’ve been repulsed by the idea of being sexual with a man. I’m behind the idea that sexuality can be fluid, but not for everyone, and appropriate labels mean something to me. I’m at least glad that she didn’t end up falling for him as more than a way to blow off steam and feel appreciated.

    I did like the general characters of the moms- the type A, controlling doctor and the more free-spirited and indecisive persona, but I just felt like with the former, it was a bit over-the-top at times…or non-cohesive.

    Like I said…love/hate relationship with this film!

  9. I didn’t like the movie, but not really for the reasons you cited. The affair w/ the donor didn’t bother me b/c I don’t think that every book/ movie/ etc needs to reflect positively on its subjects (and the people seeing the movie are probably in the know). I just thought it was boring. It was way too slow on the action, and I feel like they could’ve cut 20 mins. I also couldn’t figure out why they didn’t tie up all the loose ends. What was the point of the boy’s friend being such a douche? What was the point of the girl’s friend being… whatever it is she was supposed to be? And the sexual tension that leads to her kissing the boy? I guess it was intended to show they were acting out but… I dunno, I just thought there were several threads that were leading to something, but never got there.

    I was surprised b/c the reviews were so great. Maybe I just didn’t get it.

  10. I’ve been going back and forth bc I knew one of the moms slept with the donor and that makes me sooooo mad. Whydid they have to go in that direction?? Grrrr

  11. ewww. that makes me wanna fucking puke. i hate that they made the movie like that. making all of us REAL lesbians look bad. how is that movie suppose to make us look to some of our family who watch this movie … like we’ll sleep with a guy eventhough we say we are lesbian. eww..grrr.ewww.. i will not be seeing his dumb ass movie. i knew something wouldn’t be right about it. grrrrr

  12. Ok, first of all, I did not see this film, but plan on it. Second, I am straight and married to a man. However, I do not see gender in relationships I see relationships in relationships.
    Due to a condition with my husband, we used donor sperm. And although I can’t speak intelligently on a lesbian sleeping with a donor, as Strawberry mentioned I also see relationships as fluid, I can safely say it upsets me as a straight woman.
    Regardless of the state of my marriage at any given time, I feel not only would that be a deeper betrayal to my partner (Hey, now this guy can give me something else), but to my child.
    I chose my partner to be her father. I chose her father to be my partner. And even if my relationship were to fizzle like pop rocks in ginger ale, I made that choice and would never deny or confuse his rightful place in her life.
    Plus, penis’ are overrated anyway.

  13. We had a pretty similar response in our household. S. could just not get past the affair (and the whole every lesbian wants a good dick cliche). I am more on par with Nutella, but I did/do still find the sex scenes between Jules and Paul really troubling and difficult to watch. It is just so hard when one movie has to stand for so many different stories–it puts a disproportionate weight on the movie and the choices it makes.
    At least, I found, the family portrayal to be honest and the acting and writing to be superb. The fact that she (Jules) ends the affair and reaffirms her commitment to her family goes a way towards trying to subvert the cliche, but I still wish the story could have been told without that element.

    At least they got all the details right (correct) about sperm donation, ID release, and so forth. That could easily have been botched in the hands of someone clueless.

    I’ve been waiting for our blogland to debate this movie, thanks for getting it going here.

  14. I also have to say that, seeing the movie while pregnant with kids conceived via an anonymous donor was REALLY TRIPPY. It kinda hurt my head. 🙂

  15. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m also very disturbed by the mother-sleeping-with-the-donor subplot. I heard an interview with the writer who said that the movie came from some fears she had when she and her partner were starting their donor conceived family. Was she worried that her partner would sleep with the donor? Did she succumb to Hollywood pressure to put some straight sex in the film? I just can’t get my head around why she would write that into the script.

    Even taking into account that this character may fall in the middle of the Kinsey scale, sleeping with the donor seems like such a big F you to her partner, I’m tempted to see the movie just to understand how they could possibly work through that.

  16. Schroedinger

    I just commented on Craving’s blog about this…I am going to see it this week, with some trepidation. I have a sense from all the reviews that I will come out of it all pissed off, but I feel like I kind of have to do it.

  17. We haven’t seen it yet, and might not, based on the one character sleeping with the sperm donor. We think this is a Hollywood cop out that happens a lot– Chasing Amy, Kissing Jessica Stein, etc. It really upset us when we heard this happens in the movie because we were really excited to see it when the ads aired. (Not to mention that Julie likes Annette Benning and I Julianne Moore!)

    However, we DID use an ID donor, and I can positively assure you that if Lucas chose to meet him, I will never, ever sleep with him, even if he is as cute as Mark Ruffalo…

    Yet, even though we haven’t seen it, I am interested in the description you wrote about the son feeling let down by the donor– I suppose our donors all donated for the money. I guess I will have to start talking with Julie about how we might explain that to Lucas when the time comes.

  18. We almost went to see this movie last weekend, thinking it could be the one last hurrah night out before out babies are born. Based on this and other reviews, I think we’ll save it for netflix.

  19. I have not seen this movie yet. However, a review id read did mention the whole lesbian sleeps with man scene. That alone pissed me off GREATLY!! Just my opinion, but if you are strictly a lesbian then no man is going to make you want to jump his bones. I agree with you. Why not say she was bisexual? That I can understand. It’s upsetting that this movie reflects what alot of ppl think: The right man can turn any lesbian. It’s sickening and insulting. I dont hate men at all. However this way of thinking is demoralizing to alot of lesbians, myself included. It is because of this scene I have not rushed out to see it.
    Thank you so much for your review. But I think Ill pass on this one until it airs on cable.

  20. Love/hate is exactly how I’d characterize how I felt about this film. S. and I saw it on our date night on Friday, and I purposely didn’t read your review until this morning! I was really looking forward to seeing a film about a healthy family, directed by an out lesbian. But as soon as she jumped into bed with the donor, I just got pissed. And I think I didn’t let that anger go the rest of the movie, despite some funny moments and overall great acting.

    I suppose that we (and the mainstream) are supposed to view this film as being about relationships, not about a lesbian couple and an interloper guy. Unfortunately for me, I just don’t see it that way. I want to see a movie where for ONCE, the lesbian doesn’t sleep with a guy. Is sexuality fluid? Yes. But does a movie like this make society understand lesbian sexuality any better? Not in my opinion.

    I guess in the end, a positive point is that the film portrayed the children as healthy and well-adjusted.

    Interestingly, as a couple who used ID-release sperm, we didn’t care that much about how that part was portrayed. Maybe because I was too pissed about her sleeping with the donor…..

  21. Thank you for this post. I felt the exact way watching this movie. It was a little disappointing that they fed into that stereotype (lesbians can change).

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