>We finally saw The Kids Are All Right this weekend. I quite liked it, and it has the plot of a YA novel: two teenaged kids of lesbian parents curious about their sperm donor dad seek him out, wreaking entertaining havoc and ultimately begetting a bit of growing up for all concerned. While the story is classic teen lit, the focus is on the three parents: Annette Bening as the alcoholic perfectionist; Julianne Moore as the dreamy earth mother; Mark Ruffalo as the dreamy-looking donor dad, who eventually gets it on with Julianne.
While the movie got mostly great reviews in the press, there is some sizable dissent among gay and lesbian viewers, and I happened upon a furious debate over at the queer message board Datalounge. Someone began it by posted a naysaying review by a lesbian critic and virtual screaming rapidly ensued: I’m tired of lesbians going bi in movies! Lesbians don’t watch gay male porn (a little kink the couple has)! Why does Annette have to have a drinking problem! This movie sets the movement back twenty years! And, of course, regular interjections of “who cares, we get to see Mark Ruffalo’s bare butt!”
What struck me most was seeing how the arguments and tangents so closely resembled the discussions we have in the children’s book world, especially when it comes to books that involve someone’s identity politics. Concern about role models, stereotyping, and cultural accuracy. The belief that there are so few books about x that any book about the topic needs to be “positive.” Holding one book responsible for the sins of a genre. Grandstanding for its own sake without having read the book in question–one of the Datalounge posters insisted that there was NO WAY Annette Bening’s character would sleep with a man. Somebody else published a link to a review which complained that the movie was racist because of something heinous (and racist) Julianne Moore does to a Mexican gardener, confusing, as we often do, the behavior of a character with the attitude of the author. So the whole debate made me feel right at home; the only (and interestingly) absent complaint was that no one seemed upset that neither Bening nor Moore are lesbians, a criterion that frequently zooms right to the top in our children’s book discussions of insiders and outsiders.
Most of all, I’m disappointed when people want their movies or books to be conflict-free, or only allow it between the sainted and oppressive. If the good guys–or lesbians–aren’t as screwed-up as the real people I know, how am I supposed to connect?