[20 August 2010]
PopMatters General Features Editor
Last weekend I saw The Kids Are All Right. That is not to be confused with The Kids Are Alright, which has awesome footage of the Who playing “A Quick One” on the Rock and Roll Circus and parts of Tommy at Woodstock. The Kids Are All Right was considerably less awesome, though it featured a lot of solid acting and had the virtue of not being totally confusing, like the only other recent film I’ve seen, Inception. I admit I had a hard time getting past the fact that one of the characters was named “Laser” (why not “Radio” or “Computer”? Maybe Flux Capacitor?), one of those decisions that makes you question the entire judgment of everyone involved in the whole project—kind of like when a rock band has a stupid name that precludes you from taking any of their music seriously. But the bigger problem was that the film had a very dismal lesson to teach, namely that one has to earn family feeling through a long slog of suffering.
Obviously that ties in with gay marriage—the subtext of the film that makes it so suitable for the current zeitgeist and assures it a bountiful Oscar season. The film has an apparent agenda of proving that gay families are real and normal because they suffer ordinary marital problems like everyone else. That cheerless pessimism at least makes the film something other than a way to acclimate sympathetic straight people to the sight of gay parenting, but it makes one wonder why anyone would be so urgently desiring to start their own families at all. “Marriage is really hard,” one of the mothers announces at the film’s climactic scene, where the lesson is imparted. But must it be so? And if it must, do we need to have entertainment that dwells on the fact? I suppose it’s meant to dignify the difficult road many have chosen to stick it out in not entirely fulfilling relationships in pursuit of a more “meaningful” commitment/duty and make parents feel like heroes to themselves.
Still I was rooting for Mark Ruffalo, who seemed like he had a pretty good life and was not “interloping” in the lives of the heroic family so much as making it less tedious. If being in a family means shutting such influences out, it seems like a pretty bad bargain, though the film wants us to believe apparently that Ruffalo is some sort of a creep for showing an interest (albeit a boundary-challenged messy one) in a group of relatively boring people instead of having hipster sex with his organic-localvore-restaurant co-workers, et al. When the moms slam the door in his face at the end, it seems as though we’re supposed to think, Ha-ha, you don’t deserve familial comforts, you just haven’t earned it yet baby. I think I wanted it to be a movie about him and not the rest of them, and the fact that his humiliation at the hands of the screenplay allows the healing to begin in the family did not console me.
Ultimately The Kids Are All Right is about the tenaciousness of the nuclear-family construct in the face of social forces that might otherwise liberate us from it for something that’s less of a hothouse of shame, resentment, spite and claustrophobia.