Lisa Cholodenko: Hope Springs Maternal
By Barry Walters
'Everything seemed so sad sack and dated,' says indie director Lisa Cholodenko, remembering the pioneering but compromised lesbian and gay films that coincided with her early-'80s adulthood. 'I came out at the time of Personal Best, Making Love, and Lianna, but I never approached my own life in that marginal way.'
The 46-year-old filmmaker's The Kids Are All Right, a 2010 Sundance hit now in theaters nationwide, may do more to broaden straight America's perspective on gays than even Ang Lee's 2005 game changer, Brokeback Mountain, in that it equates gayness with upper-middle-class motherhood. Drawn from Cholodenko's own experience as the partner of Wendy Melvoin, a TV composer (Heroes) and former guitarist for Prince, Kids offers an unusually realistic and comic depiction of lesbian family life by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening. Moore plays the free-spirited yet insecure Jules, while Bening plays Nic, her well-meaning but controlling partner. Jules and Nic navigate the same challenges as straight parents, plus additional ones -- like when their children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland) and Laser (Bridge to Terabithia's Josh Hutcherson), track down their biological father (played by Mark Ruffalo). Or when they must explain to their kids why they watch gay male porn.
'Stuart [Blumberg, the film's cowriter] and I love those films by Hal Ashby and Billy Wilder that had real humanity and truth to them,' Cholodenko says of inspirations like Harold and Maude and The Apartment. 'They could illuminate something about the human experience but were absurd and accentuated, and so they left you in this unstable place where you're kept engaged.' Case in point: In one scene Laser is caught watching his mothers' porn DVD. Is he gay or just mom-curious?
Cholodenko, whose previous films include High Art and Laurel Canyon, conceived Kids while she and Melvoin searched for an anonymous sperm donor to father their future child. She drafted its plot with Blumberg, a former sperm donor himself.
'I learned how absolutely intentional it is to have a kid as a gay couple,' Cholodenko says. 'This kid was wanted. It gave me a mandate to make sure that if I'm saying things in the film that might be subversive or risqu', I'm not doing it just to be cheeky. Underneath everything there has to be some grain of gravity, so that in 10 years when our kid looks at this movie, he's proud and doesn't feel exploited or embarrassed.'
The Kids Are All Right is playing in select theaters nationwide.