Did The Kids Are All Right Get Its Due?

 

rodger-streitmatterBy the end of this year’s marathon Oscar show, I was feeling sad. This seemed like an odd sensation for me, as I believed that all the major winners fully deserved to take home the trophies they’d been handed during the glamorous event.

As a movie buff, I had seen all the big contenders, and I was on board, for example, with The King’s Speech being named best picture of the year, as well as Colin Firth being named best actor and Tom Hooper winning best director accolades. Likewise, I believe Natalie Portman won her Academy Award fair and square for her riveting performance in Black Swan, as did Christian Bale and Melissa Leo for their supporting roles in The Fighter.

I also felt good about the pair of gorgeous co-hosts who piloted the global TV audience through the evening. Anne Hathaway managed not only to keep the show energized but also to move seamlessly from lavish gown to lavish gown—I counted eight of them!—with no wardrobe malfunctions. James Franco also did his part, appealing to the youth demographic by appearing to have been stoned through the entire event—my favorite characterization of him was that he looked like an iguana sunning himself in the desert!

So why was I sad?

The Kids Are All Right went home empty handed.

 
Even before the film opened last summer, it was being touted as an Oscar contender. It not only had an impressive cast of A-list actors—Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo—but also a plot thatAnnette Bening deviated nicely from the boy-meets-girl standard. A story about a middle-aged lesbian couple with two well-adjusted teenage kids who decide to make contact with their hitherto anonymous sperm-donor father—is this the kind of high-concept film that liberal Hollywood loves or what?

Publications that review movies were soon pronouncing Kids a must-see film. The New York Times praised it for having “an irresistible real-life quality to it; you feel as if these are people you know.” The Boston Globe added that the film was “beautifully written, impeccably played, funny and randy and true,” while Slate weighed in by describing it as “the movie we’ve been waiting for all year: a comedy that doesn’t take cheap shots, a drama that doesn’t manipulate, a movie of ideas that doesn’t preach.”

Julianne MooreThat “doesn’t preach” theme was the one that struck closest to home for me. To me, the aspect of Kids that was most laudable was how it quietly endorsed same-sex marriage by depicting the realities of two decent but flawed individuals who love each other with all their hearts and yet inevitably run into rough water as they try to keep their long-term relationship afloat.

Anyone who looked for some telling backstory about the film—people such as me—quickly learned that its authenticity came from the fact that writer and director Lisa Cholodenko got the idea for the plot from her own experience starting a family with her partner.

When the Oscar nominations came out, I was encouraged that the queerest film of the year had gotten the attention it deserved. Kids was on the list of ten films competing for best picture, Annette Bening was nominated for best actress, Mark Ruffalo was up for best supporting actor, and Lisa Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg were among the nominees for best original screenplay. At the same time, I was disappointed that Cholodenko wasn‘t nominated for best director and Moore was overlooked for her wonderful performance—I chalked up that oversight to the fact that it was a tough call whether her proper category was lead or supporting actress.

Box office revenue had also, by this point, climbed to about the level that a realistic fan could have hoped for. That is, the film had cost an estimated $4 million to make and had grossedMark Ruffalo slightly more than $20 million—certainly not a blockbuster, but nothing to scoff at either.

As Oscar night approached, it became clear that the best hope for a Kids victory rested on the lovely shoulders of Annette Bening. She’s beloved in the Hollywood film community, mostly because she’s a terrific actress but also partly because she’s the wife of Warren Beatty. She’d been nominated four times in the past, but had never taken home a golden statue.

It seemed pretty clear that Kids wasn’t going to win in any of the other three categories. The best picture battle was between The King’s Speech and The Social Network. Christian Bale from The Fighter and Geoffrey Rush from The King’s Speech gave stronger performances than Mark Ruffalo. It was going to be tough for anyone to beat David Seidler, whose own struggle with stuttering as a child had inspired him to write the screenplay for The King’s Speech.

Natalie Portman in Black Swan was the clear front runner for best actress. She’d trained for her role as a ballerina for a year, and her on-screen performance was a tour de force that had scooped up lots of prizes in the competitions leading up to Hollywood’s biggest night. Portman had the edge over Bening—at least as I saw it—because playing a ballerina on the edge of a psychological meltdown was way showier than playing a middle-aged provider who’d been dutifully building a solid family for years and yet had been wronged by a wife who’d succumbed to the charms of an endearing younger man.

Portman won, and deservedly so. It’s widely believed that Bening’s nuanced performance came in second, but they don’t give out silver trophies at the Academy Awards.

Josh_HutchersonAs time has passed since Oscar night, my disappointment that The Kids Are All Right didn’t win any of the big awards—or even a small one—has gradually lessened. In a way, this is the absolutely right outcome. Just as the on-screen lesbian couple had to ride out the rough waters in their relationship, Bening and Cholodenko have to ride out the vicissitudes of who gets accolades in the world of Hollywood.

What’s ultimately helped me move on from the fact that last year’s queerest film didn’t take home any Oscars is my recalling of the final scene from the film—one of the many poignant ones.

The scene has Annette Bening, whose character is named Nic, and Julianne Moore, whose character is named Jules, in the family car as they leave the college campus where they’ve just dropped off the older of their two children and are now heading back home. The younger of the children, Laser, is sitting in the back seat.

Laser: “I don’t think you guys should break up.”

Nic then asks: “No? Why’s that?”

Laser: “I think you’re too old.”

Nic smiles and then says, in a wry tone: “Thanks, Laser.”

Jules grins and gently places a hand on her partner’s knee. Nic then covers Jules’s hand with her own.

The kids are all right, and so are the parents.
By Rodger Streitmatter
© LGBT-Today

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