Bigfoot goes to the movies: The Kids Are Alright

3.5 Stomps out of five

The Kids Are Alright Directed by Lisa Cholodenko and starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson.

My reaction to this movie is quite personal. Judging by the sounds generated by the other people in the theater – surprised intakes of breath, at least one “hoo-hah,” and sprinkles of nervous laughter – that is the experience of many viewers. The viewer is forced to face up to their reaction to the frank depiction of homosexuality which is not a very common public experience.

In my case, I was sent back in time 10 or 12 years to a series of committee meetings in which we had to consider a petition from a lesbian couple for health benefits. The committee was made up of straight people, men and women, who had to come to grips with their individual views on same-sex marriage and the role of sperm donors. This came up because the two women had used sperm donated by a friend who was openly acknowledged as the biological father; he and one of the women were employees of the university where I was working. I can still call up an image of the room where we met and what the weather was like outside as we tried to figure out what we thought was right.

I think the committee felt good about working through to a recommendation for the extension of benefits to same-sex couples (without having to take a stand on the issue of marriage), and that eventually the university adopted that position.

So for me, the movie was sort of a “catch-up” on the couple (who we never met in person), a sort of very detailed view of the workings of a same-sex marriage and the affirmation that things aren’t really much different for that pairing than for a more conventional couple. The kids depicted in the movie are probably about the same age as the kids we were considering, so they would be experiencing the same sorts of rites of passage shown.

The role of the adult straight male of the piece seems to me to be a bit contorted. He is fairly mindless, optimistic, and lacking in ambition. He is, apparently, always “on,” seeing sexual promise in baskets of tomatoes, strawberries or squashes proffered by pretty women. Two of the four members of the family find him to be “full of himself.” And yet he exerts sufficient (and varied) magnetism to attract all four of them. He is welcomed with more than open arms, yet after he accepts a physical relationship he becomes the focal point for blame for the stresses and the difficulties of the family. He is declared “an interloper” and is banished, even though he was the pursued and not the pursuer. I think the character is rightly confused about what exactly it was that he did that was unwanted.

Fortunately, his is a lesser role and by absorbing the blame assigned by the family he paves the way for a successful ending to the story for the principal characters. The smooth, gloss coating to the ending is a statement of promise and rejuvenation that is welcome and hopeful. But it is also a stark contrast to the bumpy road by which we arrived at that point.

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