(from Nancy, by Ernie Bushmiller, 1970s)
Monthly Archives: January 2011
The Kids Are All Right (2010) – directed by Lisa Cholodenko, written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
by Margaux Williamson
(I saw this in the middle of a very long train trip headed north. My boyfriend picked it out. We watched it on his laptop with separate headphones. The little boy next to us was watching Spider Man without headphones. I didn’t realize till just before we started watching it that the director was Lisa Cholodenko. I had seen two of her other movies High Art and Laurel Canyon and never would have guessed this was hers. We both laughed a lot. The movie was what you hope a Hollywood/ independent/ intelligent drama could be, but rarely is – incredibly good and not dumb. )
The Kids Are All Right is about a sort-of-happy family with two moms, one teenage son and one teenage daughter. The son becomes curious about his and his sister’s sperm donor (each of the moms gave birth but the same donor was used in both cases). Together, the kids contact the sperm donor. This is done secretly so that they don’t hurt their moms’ feelings. The Sperm donor (Paul played by Mark Ruffalo) is handsome and charming and is a soft-spoken ladies’ man. He owns a fancy restaurant, rides a motorcycle and dates young earthy women with tank tops. The kids aren’t sure if they like him or not but he starts coming to family dinner.
His presence slightly alters the dynamic of the family, in some ways really positively, empowering some family members, but also threatens the position for the more controlling mom (Nic played by Annette Bening). The more laid-back mom (Jules played by Julianne Moore) abruptly kisses Paul one day after he hires her to do some landscaping in his backyard. He kisses her back. As the days go on, there is much sex, and much understated bemusement and also troubled bemusement. After one sex incident Jules exclaims – “What is WRONG with me?!?”
It is more mundane subject matter than the mysteries-of-making-art and woman-rock-stars of Lisa Cholodenko’s other movies, High Art and Laurel Canyon (where there is much seductive yearning for things just-out-of-reach – like sex & mentoring from complicated women, or professional success in the arts), but all three movies are pretty straightforward narratives.
What makes The Kids Are All Right weirder and weightier is that it has something unusual to say. The movie builds and communicates the idea that marriage is a strong institution – like a pyramid.
After the affair is revealed to the whole family in a tumultuous instant, Paul and Jules have a private conversation on their cell phones. They are both outside because they live in California. He takes a breath and then takes a big leap (maybe the biggest of his life) – “Let’s do this. Let’s make a go of this.. now that it’s out in the open”.
Jules’ face moves in a spasm between incredulity and exasperation. I don’t remember what she said first – “I’m married!!!” or – “I’m a lesbian!!!”, but she hung up the phone after one of them. He had had no idea what he was up against. Neither did we really. We are used to marriages in movies being more like straw houses, and the people who blow them down – more like wolves.
With Jules’ declarations to Paul of commitments and sexual orientation (and everything that came before them in the movie), marriage suddenly looked like a heavy, intricate object – a thing complicated and structurally sound, with an agreed upon contract that allows construction and maintenance to take place over good and bad times, something difficult but that can ideally change shape, something that can’t be so easily be knocked down.
Paul got locked out of the house and it was hard not to feel for him – especially here in this movie where all the characters were complicated. The people inside the house were miserable, but they were warm and they would recover.
by Chris Randle
A creaking racial barrier was breached last November. It mostly went unnoticed – this was not an Obama-sized milestone – but as omens go, it’s a convincing one. When the L.A. rap crew Far East Movement sent their single “Like a G6” to #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, they became the first Asian-American group to top the U.S. charts. And they happened to do so just as record companies are making an unprecedented promotional effort on behalf of pop acts from East Asia itself, hoping that Korean and Japanese stars will find an Atlantic audience.
“The first Asian-American…” is a problematic distinction, or at least a fussy one. Ne-Yo has Chinese ancestry; Nicki Minaj’s background is partly Indo-Trinidadian; Amerie was an army brat who spent several early years in her mother’s native Korea. They’ve all recorded Top 10 hits. But their public identities tend to be coded as black and nothing else, by design or otherwise. (Amerie collaborated with the Korean R&B singer Se7en and apparently speaks the language with relatives.) Not to mention Jay Sean, whose Britishness is probably more exotic than his brownness in parts of the U.S. now. Far East Movement just register as “Asian” without any such ambiguity – I mean, look at that name. Like California Swag District, it reminds me of factions from a video game, possibly because I spent way too much time playing Fallout over the holidays.
Though FEM sometimes work with an African/Asian/Caucasian-American production team called the Stereotypes, “Like a G6” is free of dubious chinoiserie. The most cringeworthy thing about this single is its faint resemblance to Black Eyed Peas. I like the cold bass – between that and affectless chorus girl Dev, the track almost sounds like electroclash. I like her own party-party-party anthem better, if only for “wanna get your mitts in my oven.”
It’s unremarkable that a bunch of guys from Los Angeles’ Koreatown grew up surrounded by pop-rap and thought yeah, me too! What did surprise me is how much certain East Asian groups have enthusiastically adopted American musical idioms. When Tom Ewing assigned me to South Korea for last year’s Pop World Cup, I fell in love with K-pop. (Ended up losing by a single vote in the quarterfinals, perhaps due to my unhealthy fixation on propulsive beats + blatant Autotune.) And K-pop idols – a very technoccult term for these carefully managed stars, as if Genesis P-Orridge had gone into A&R – are rapping a lot. There are successful Korean MCs, such as G-Dragon, but the ascendant girl groups often have designated verse-spitting members of their own, from Rainbow to Miss A. Plus, club bangers:
None of the aforementioned foreign acts have actually broken through in the U.S. yet (Wonder Girls’ “Nobody” did reach the outer environs of Billboard’s chart in 2009, the first Korean song to do so). I suspect that’s because the artists in question have been induced to imitate passing American trends before each marketing push. The Korean-Japanese singer BoA, for example, recorded an entire album of sub-Gaga Eurobosh for her stateside debut, sounding understandably awkward in the process. Why not foist the ultramodern, ecstatically artificial bubblegum of a Girls’ Generation on unsuspecting Americans and see what happens?
That easy choice is ultimately a false one. What I really want to see 2011’s slate of crossover wannabes do is continue the tangled polycultural moves they’re already feeling out. Anyone living in a major North American city has probably been pulled into that dance already, if not born on the floor. My friend Maddie, whose critical K-pop blog My First Love Story guides, incites and inspires, recently argued that “hybridizing one’s identity is better than endlessly floundering between one or the other.” Nicki Minaj couldn’t forge a katana for you, but she knows how to swing one.