Gay Mom on 'The Kids Are All Right': 'I Kept Forgetting It Was About Lesbians'
A gay mom with an important film studio job asked us to share her response to Lisa Cholodenko's Oscar hopeful, a personal insight into how it's connecting to a crucial demo. "I did not expect to enjoy The Kids Are All Right," says Anonymous Gay Movie Mom.
"I figured I'd appreciate it as quality cinema, but I resisted watching it because why would this workaholic gay mom want to see a movie about -- SPOILER ALERT! -- how a workaholic gay mom gets cheated on by her wife? With a guy. And not just any guy, but their previously unknown sperm donor, the biological father of their two children!
"It set off my alarms: Was this going to be a movie about a family with two moms that breaks apart as soon as a dad -- the 'real' dad -- comes on the scene? Ugh, no thanks. I've seen enough sad lesbians on the big screen, so tortured by their identity, so unable to have real relationships and a happily ever after. I am happy to report that this movie is beyond self-hatred and doubt around being gay. It's bigger than that. It's about marriage and couplehood and parenthood and what keeps us together and pulls us apart.
"I'm not so insecure to think that I'm not loved by my family. I am. But I worry that I'm not home enough, not engaged enough, not kind enough. And I know that if I'm not attuned enough to these deficiences that gaps could form and someone could slip between me and the people I love. Unlike Annette Bening's character, I'm not the biological mom to either of my kids. [My wife] did all the hard work. I just gave her fertility shots and held her hand in the delivery room. There were times, early on, where I felt insecure about my place in our family, not as a provider but as a mom. Like when the hospital forms had a place for me as the insurance policy holder but not as parent. I started to feel better after I was able to adopt the kids (thank God we live in a state where it's allowed). I'm not just my kids' mom in my heart, but legally too.
"If our donor came into our lives, I would try to be big about it, but I would feel threatened. So for me, the big moment in the movie came when Bening's character sent the donor and would-be father figure packing. Damn right it's her family! And I love that for them, it was true. Mark Ruffalo's character was awfully appealing, and yet the undeniable pull of biology (and effortless cool and fresh peppers and a motorcycle) can't replace years of being a real, present and loving parent. Maybe it's possible for an unknown donor to become known and have some measure of involvment in a family made with his contribution. But that needs to happen in a way that's respectful to all involved for it to be something more than a lightning strike in a family's life.
"I figured the cheating and the fallout would feel forced. But it didn't. I understood how those characters got to every place they got. [My wife] said that she thought Julianne Moore's character cheated with a man in part because she knew she wouldn't fall in love. She is gay, after all! Best of all, and this is may sound weird, I kept forgetting this was about lesbians. It was a movie about a couple that poured so much into their jobs and their (wonderful) children that their own relationship went untended. Moore's character talked about hearing criticism in silence and that hit me. Criticisms so rarely go unspoken. But it's all to easy to think the affirming things somehow don't need to be said. Those you love the most know you so well that they will know your heart and mind in silence, right? Well, no. And they may begin to assume to worst, to feel unloved, to scream for your attention from the arms (and bed) of someone else. And if they REALLY want you to hear, it may be from the arts of, God forbid, your donor.
"OK, I need to get off Facebook and go pay attention to my wife."
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Scott Feinberg, the lead awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, is one of the entertainment industry's most experienced and trusted experts about the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys. He started on the awards beat in 2001, writing for independent websites including his own ScottFeinberg.com before joining the Los Angeles Times and then THR, for which he writes “The Race” blog, which won the LA Press Club’s National Entertainment Journalism Award for best entertainment blog of 2012-2013. A voting member of both the Broadcast Film Critics' Association and Broadcast Television Journalists Association, he is also writing a book about film history for young people for which he has interviewed more than 500 high-profile Hollywood figures whose careers span the silent era through the present.
Follow Scott on Twitter at twitter.com/scottfeinberg.