Who’s Alright?: The Politics of “Queerspawn” Representation in "The Kids Are Alright"

Curator's Note

Like most members of a minority group, I’m ambivalent about the way media representations frame me, so it’s not that surprising that, as someone with lesbian moms, I viewed The Kids Are Alright (TKAA) with some discomfort. It’s a beautiful film about the messiness of family and there were many aspects of the movie that spoke to my experience (for example a heterosexual affair did rupture my childhood) though I am from an earlier moment in queerspawn history. Yet the movie was also a disappointment for both it’s ultimate reliance on a discourse of normality for queer families and its misleading title suggesting it’s about “the kids.”

As TKAA’s director Lisa Cholodenko makes clear in the featurette, the film is about how “all families are faced with the same challenges.” This de-queering of lesbian families favors assimilationist ideas of normality. Yet there are clear limitations to discourses of normality. It’s tempting to read increased visibility as increased acceptance or power, but as Jay Clarkson notes, it often functions more to sanction some representations, and in this case, forms of queer family, over others (370). TKAA, and its promotional discourses, represent this middle class white lesbian family as “normal” by seeking to make it interchangeable with any family. The film ultimately does not move far from the representational norms of LGBTQ people, as described by Bonnie Dow, that depoliticize queerness by positing sexuality as primarily important within the personal sphere (131). Even if TKAA does invert one of Dow’s listed norms (129) with Paul who seems to be defined entirely by his heterosexuality, it remains trapped in a discourse of normality over (unc)conventionality (Clarkson 380)

The most disappointing facet for me, however, is that TKAA presents itself as about “the kids,” when it’s really about everyone else (Dow 129-129). The title says it all. To speak of “the kids” in the third person implies they are absent as either the speaking or listening subjects; they are objects. Cholodenko told the audience of a prescreening I attended that the desired audience for the film was 18-35 year-old straight women who will like the story’s romance. It leaves me wondering, then, who’s really alright, who’s asking, who cares, and why? I suspect it’s not us “kids,” for if it was, we’d have more moments like the one in the second clip.


Yes, yes, spot on Aaron. I grappled long and hard with my views towards TKAA. First of, I wanted to enjoy it for the impact I knew it may have, by increasing the visibility of a COLAGE themed experience into the living rooms of millions, many who would encounter this for the first time. I wanted to enjoy it for the performances of each cast member, I thought they were wonderful, especially Annette Bening. I love Lisa Cholodenko as a filmmaker. I'm a fan of several of her movies like Laurel Canyon and High Art. I even thought the direction in TKAA had a sublime tone, mixing smart humor with interpersonal rivalries. So, what was it that bothered me so much? Was it the story? Was I bothered by Julianne Moore’s character having an affair with the donor father? Did that seem plausible? Well, yes, she needed comfort and was angry enough with her wife that sure, she might venture to temporarily soothe her egoistic needs. OK, I thought, I can deal with that, it’s odd, but fine. So, hmm, what can it be? I have my own desires based on my family experiences that I never see characterized, so that’s part of it, but that would be shortsighted and attaching that to another project would be fruitless and irrelevant. I knew that the title bothered me. I’ve expressed for the past few years in radio and newspaper interviews that we have come so far with the battle for LGBTQ rights, that while we are not fully equally, and the battle continues for millions in many American States, that we should not be looking now for approval through assimilation or having to prove that we have the ability to create perfect families. While that may be true for some families, it shouldn’t have to be the reason why we should be given the same rights. The shape of the conversation must move forward from “I’m good like you” or “I’m capable like you,” or “Don’t worry the kids will be alright” to “We’ll probably make terrible mistakes and create some monsters, just like you too.” So, while Cholodenko’s film is a vital part of the narrative, it wasn’t until reading Aaron’s curator notes here, that I fully understood why I never felt fully settled or satisfied with the film. This film has much less to do about the kids than the title suggests. It’s as if the film is saying, look we make the same mistakes just like you, we can cheat on our spouses, but we did such a great job with our kids, that they’ll handle it. The kids are all right, because we’ve normalized them within the parameters we all recognize and understand. Parameters that do not extend beyond our own comfort zone.

I liked the movie more than you did but definitely agree that it wasn't about the kids experience. That was not the point of view and in particular they way they handled the kids' burgeoning sexuality rang false. They were both way prudish, which in my experience is not the case with most Queerspawn. I think we tend to be more open and comfortable about sexuality than the average, regardless of our orientation. I see the assimilationist tendencies you are talking about but I guess they didn't bother me as much, maybe because they rang true for me as someone who is both white and middle class. Back in 2010, I wrote my own review of the movie, it's a little long winded and I'm not sure I stand by all of it currently but here it is: http://www.kellenkaiser.com/uncategorized/im-all-right-i-dont-know-about...

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