Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gay Moms Want Sperm Limits in The Kids Are All Right

We're late to the gate with The Kids Are All Right but nevertheless we are putting our own spin on a movie about two lesbian moms and the kids they bore via a sperm-donor dad. It's not the same as everybody's else's.
Rotten Tomatoes, a web movie rating system that collects movie reviews, found that reviewers gave the movie a 96 per cent approval rating, meaning four percent (5) of the 121 critics culled gave it a negative review.
The rest loved it. A synopsis of The Kids Are All Right from Rotten Tomatoes:
"Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) are married and share a cozy suburban Southern California home with their teenage children, Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson). Nic and Jules – or, when referred to jointly by Joni, "Moms" – gave birth to and raised their children, and built a family life for the four of them. As Joni prepares to leave for college, 15-year-old Laser presses her for a big favor. He wants Joni, now 18, to help him find their biological father; the two teenagers were conceived by artificial insemination."
The always cool and laid-back Mark Ruffalo, a still single charming hispter who runs an organic restaurant, turns out to be the dad, Paul. He's thrilled to meet the kids. The moms? Not so much, especially Nic (Benning) who sees him as an object merely of the kids' curiosity, but not someone she wants to have around. Jules (Moore), who has been more or less the housewife mom, is hired by Paul to landscape and plant a garden behind his restaurant. As the plants go in, sexual fireworks fly. Along the way there is plenty of comedy that had me amused, not only when Jules sleeps with Paul, but also in the inner workings of the long time lesbian relationship between Nic and Jules that seem like a lot of long term heterosexual relationships.

The Kids Are Alright (Special Edition)But what was my antennae up for as a first/birth mom? Especially one who came into the lives of the people who had adopted my daughter--when she was a teenager? I wanted to know: How were the movie moms were going to react to the dad they only knew as Donor Number X? How were the kids were going to react to him? Nic basically wants the children to meet him once and then move on; that's over, right? Your curiosity satisfied, right? No need to see "him" again. When Jules has a relationship with Paul, she recognizes characteristics of him in their kids, in, say, the way he moves his head. Her imitation of Ruffalo (and her kids) is one of the great moments of the film for me. Paul even goes so far as to suggest that they get together and become a new family--Laser is their biological son after all. Joni is Nic's daughter. Did some part of me root for that, even for a second? Well, yes, Dear Reader, it did even though I knew that was not where the film or real life would likely head.

What I found totally real is Nic's wanting Paul's relationship to their family to be over with and gone from their lives. I don't have the dialogue here, but I found it spot on because I know that after a while it is how my daughter's adoptive mother felt about me. Get out and leave us alone! Or, conversely, take our daughter! She's too much trouble! Couldn't Joni and Laser just be satisfied in knowing who their father was, and leave their family alone? As that attitude plays out, there are a couple of scenes that first/birth mothers will find somewhat painful, but without knocking you over in the gut. This is no Juno, a movie that did so much damage to first mothers, a movie I will hate until I die. 

Things go well with Paul and the kids, and then they don't. There's a great scene with the son, Laser, who has a friend who is going to grow up to be an abuser, when Paul tries to get him to stay away from the nasty kid. Paul takes Joni for a motorcycle ride even thought her mother forbids her to get on motorcycles. Soon enough, Nic wants Paul gone, but Nic tries her best to go along (with copious amounts of wine) and then the whole applecart of her relationship with Jules is blown wide open when she discovers Jules has been sleeping with Paul. Now Paul has to go. He shows up one night to see the kids but is turned away, Nic yelling at him at the door that he needs to go make his own family, that he is not wanted in theirs, that he is the interloper here. I felt sure that every adoptive parent watching felt Right On! with that scene. I felt that the non-adoptive parents I know who think I'm the selfish interloper because I found Jane saw that and said: Right on, wouldn't anybody feel that way?
Lethal Secrets
Damn, I'm thinking, is that how this is going to end? No crumbs for the biological parent of Joni and Laser, the sperm donor who does want to be a part of their lives? Okay, he shouldn't have slept with Jules, but right or wrong, he feels a connection to those children borne of his sperm. Is a slammed door going to be the end of that? Now the fractured relationship of Jules and Nice is mended--Jules, Nic, Laser and Joni one big happy family--without Paul--and together they get ready to take Joni off to college. Is dad going to be dust in the wind? I was reminded of the excellent book, Lethal Secrets, written by Annette Baran and Ruben Pannor, about the implications and angst of people who do not know their biological parentage and heritage.

But there is one saving grace note, a crumb for us birth parents who did not raise our children. Joni has Paul's hat, which he gave her as she was helping him in the garden one day. Should she take it to college or leave it home, where it's likely to be thrown out, or at least not considered important? Please, I'm thinking, TAKE IT. But she puts it aside....hmmm, not the ending I would have liked, not the ending that so many adoptees who come here indicate they would do. So I'm bummed.

But NO! My husband says that as Joni is packing up the car to leave for school, she throws the hat in the car. She's taking it with her, the implication of a continued relationship, if not one that goes along merrily with the schema of Two Moms and Their Kids, No Daddy Needed. The movie isn't about a long term relationship with their biological father, but the hat taken (look for it or  you will miss it) leaves open the promise that while Jules and Nic may not want Paul around in the future, his children do, one way or another. He will be in their lives. Maybe there just won't be anymore family dinners with all parents present. Before I wrote this, I read a couple of reviews, but not one mentions the promise of the kids having an ongoing relationship with Paul, the sperm-donor dad. Maybe for those reviewers, that story is neater without it. Or maybe they only saw the comedy, and that did not make a difference. Or they did not imagine the rest of the story. Or maybe they, like me, did not see the hat thrown in the car. A birth father I know saw the movie twice; he argued with my husband over whether it was a comedy or not. He loved the movie.What did other mothers/adoptees think of The Kids Are All Right? Please leave comments.

As a side note, Joni in the movie is named for Joni Mitchell, and Nic sings a song of hers at one point, "All I Want." Joni Mitchell relinquished a child for adoption in 1965 in Canada, and was reunited with her some years ago. In Girls Like Us,a confident of Joni's related to author Shelia Weller that the baby was brought to her by mistake in the hospital, and "that's when she flipped out...she [Joni] realized that she had a baby and was going to give it up. And ever since then, she's never really been able to live with herself. "

A second note of irony: Annette Benning also plays the birth mother in Mother & Child, a movie I have to admit I missed in the one week it played in the local theater. I'm hoping it comes back to the art house we have in Sag Harbor, or I'll have to wait for the DVD. I'm sure it's going to be tearful for me and maybe it's best that I watch and cry in the privacy of my home. But I did want to support any movie that portrays the reality and lingering grief and sorrow of relinquishment. And Linda used her tears in the ladies room at the theater to educate just one woman about why she was crying. That's one more woman who can't say she never met a birth mother who was fine with having given up her child.
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One last note: Granddaughter Lisa and I have been interviewed for a story in the New York Times. Now it's scheduled for Saturday (8/7/10) in the About New York column, but scheduled is not the same as published. Anything could change that. Am I nervous abut how we'll be portrayed? You bet. And that illustration above is the jacket of The Who's album, The Kids Are Alright. --lorraine
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Reading in Harper's Bazaar the other day I came upon this nugget: Lisa Cholodenko, the co-screen writer and director of  The Kids Are All Right, is in a committed lesbian relationship, and she and her partner, Wendy Melvoin, have a sperm-donor baby. Cholodenko is the one who had the child. They chose the donor because of his disarming toddler face: "His eyes were piercing but soulful...he seemed creative, athletic, in good physical health and emotionally stable." We'll have to wait and see about Calder, the child.
Read more about sperm-donor babies: When Daddy's Name is Donor...

7 comments :

  1. Lorraine, many hugs, it doesn't matter how you are portrayed, really, but that you are portrayed. You, as a journalist, know that a foot in the door is an awesome tool. I am hoping that it becomes a good thing for all.

    Luck, I will be looking for the article.

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  2. Interersting isn't it the rise in the number of adoption and donor stories being portrayed into normality.She takes the hat, course she does!

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  3. Anthology about motherhood is i the works - this might be a good place for mothers to write about adoption loss and motherhood and to get more exposure in the feminist arena. There is info at the end for sending in articles.

    Call for submissions:

    http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/08/04/call-for-submissions-this-bridge-called-my-baby-legacies-of-radical-mothering/

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  4. Looking forward to the article about you and granddaughter Lisa. I hope it gets in to the Times.

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  5. Agree with all you said about the movie.

    We might want the movie to be about the kid's continuing relationship with their biological father but it was a comedy and at least it showed that people created in labs with sperm that was sold wonder who their "other" parent is. Just like adoptees want to know too where they came from, what their heritage it.

    Some people are complaining that The Kids Are All Right was not a serious look at the issue. Good luck in getting that movie made. In the meantime, I'll take what we can get.
    Adoptee Amy

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  6. Wow! I'm so glad I read your review of this film - I'm seeing it with a friend on Sunday. I'll defintely be looking for that hat being thrown into the back of the car...

    I'm really excited for you and Lisa to have your story published and I'll be watching for it.

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  7. I love your blog but I don't really agree with this post. Paul's situation can't be compared to that of a first mother/parent. Paul wasn't a mother who was coerced into relinquishing a child that she had been carrying in the womb for 9th months. He wasn't a father who was forced to watch helplessly as the mother of his child relinquished the beloved baby for adoption. He hasn't spent the last 18 years missing the child that he lost. He was basically just a party boy who donated some sperm for $60 and never gave it a second thought until the kids contacted him. So personally, I don't see him as a first father or biological dad. Okay, he technically IS their biological dad but still...jacking off into a cup isn't the same as actually conceiving a child.

    I agree with most of your other blog posts though. Great blog.

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