Relationship research transcripts occasionally read like movie scripts. Indeed, humans build multifaceted relationships and the complexities of these relationships are often mimicked and projected on the big screen. As motion pictures frequently depict, intimate relationships can be a source of immense happiness when they go well and a cause of tremendous heartache when in turmoil. It is apparent to most moviegoers that significant discrepancies exist between the relational structures, behaviors, and values portrayed on the “reel” and those that persist in “real” life. However, identifying these incongruities may prove particularly difficult for audience members unfamiliar with relationships that diverge from “tradition.”
Critical scholars have rightly argued that the “traditional American family” is an amalgam of structures, behaviors, and values that never co-existed at the same time and place. Without a doubt, it is impossible to accurately and adequately describe the American “family” or “relationship” without further characterizing these active and evolving systems as static entities. Notwithstanding the obvious diversity of individual families and relationships, social scientists importantly point out that homosexual couples and families possess striking similarities to their heterosexual counterparts. In fact, studies show surprisingly few differences between straight and queer couples in committed relationships. When significant differences emerge, researchers have suggested that heterosexual couples have “a great deal to learn” from homosexual couples, particularly when it comes to conflict resolution, egalitarianism, and unconstrained commitment. This research certainly brings into question the notion of the often seductive and nostalgia-inducing “American family” and “heterosexual ideal” that is perpetuated in American motion pictures.
The Kids Are All Right is a ripe point of reference for exploring ideas of “tradition,” “family,” “nostalgia,” and ever-evolving symbols of “Americana.” Is there identity incongruence when a self-identified lesbian (i.e., Jules) has a sexual affair with a heterosexual man (i.e., Paul)? Does the movie reinforce a heteronormative standard for homosexual couples and families? Does the movie liberate and/or constrain the way queer families are defined?
Ultimately, it is my general observation that the concepts of relationships and Americana are dynamic and, more importantly, systemic. Not only are both concepts continually changing, but also concomitantly having an impact on the redefinition of the other.