Modern. Family.

Julianne Moore and out director Lisa Cholodenko talk about the summer’s coolest ‘family’ film

LAWRENCE FERBER  | Contributing Writer lawrencewferber@hotmail.com

JONI AND LASER HAVE TWO MOMMIES | Lesbian parents (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) cope with meeting a sperm donor in the summer’s most off-handed gay movie, ‘The Kids Are All Right.’ Moore worked for years with writer-director Lisa Cholodenko to bring the film to the screen.

The Kids Are Alright
Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo. Rated R. 100 mins. Opens Friday at Landmark’s
Magnolia Theatre. To read
Arnold Wayne Jones’ review, visit
DallasVoice.com/Screen.

To help Julianne Moore prepare for her role as a lesbian parent in The Kids Are All Right, out director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko gave her some critical materials to study: Gay porn.

“Yeah!” Moore laughs, discussing the film in Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria weeks before the film rolled out.

Moore and Annette Bening play Jules and Nic, a middle-aged lesbian couple who spice up their sex life by watching gay male porn — which their 15-year-old son, Laser (Josh Hutchinson), discovers and has a very awkward discussion with them about.

“That stuff is really funny,” Moore admits regarding the scenes. “I love the honesty with which they explain it [to him]. It’s really adorable.”

This is but one raucously funny sequence in the High Art director’s third feature, which she co-wrote with straight screenwriter Stuart Blumberg (Keeping the Faith, The Girl Next Door).

Debuting to acclaim and ecstatic reviews at 2010’s Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals, The Kids begins when Laser and his 18-year-old sister Joni (Mia Wasikowska), who were conceived via artificial insemination from an anonymous donor, track down their biological father, laid-back restaurateur Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Paul is intrigued by his sudden “father” status, and slowly ingratiates himself. Uptight Nic isn’t enthralled with this development, but Jules, in the midst of an identity crisis, develops a rapport with Paul, which leads to explosive complications.

Comedic and sharply drawn, The Kids represents Cholodenko’s first screenplay collaboration. While ultimately symbiotic — Blumberg gets credit for insisting they include the deliciously funny gay porn bit, which was borne from a random writing break conversation — Cholodenko admits the scripting process, which commenced following the release of her 2002 feature Laurel Canyon and endured for the better part of a decade, was fraught with tension and disagreement.

“There were times we wanted to throttle each other and quit,” she says. “It was protracted and painstaking and [there were] differences of opinion, but ultimately we defaulted to where we began. I liked that he was bringing a comedic and commercial sensibility and he liked I was bringing a more auteur sensibility and we each wanted a little something of what the other had or could do well.”

The script also reflected some personal events in Cholodenko’s and Blumberg’s own lives. She and long-term partner Wendy Melvoin (of Wendy & Lisa fame) were attempting to get pregnant (they succeeded in 2006); Blumberg had been a sperm donor while in college.

Luckily, they also had Moore attached early on. Moore, who played queer and sexually fluid characters in films including The Hours and Chloe, says she had been determined to work with Cholodenko even before they met at a Women In Film luncheon a few years after the 1998 release of High Art.

“We said we’d like to work together,” Moore recalls, “so we had a meeting and later she sent me [an early draft of The Kids]. I probably would have done anything. For me, it’s an examination of a long-term relationship and middle age marriage and that’s really interesting and unusual.”

The script went through numerous drafts, with major shifts in both its tone and scope. “There was originally a river rafting trip that all the big drama happened on,” Cholodenko says. “Once that went away because we realized we weren’t going to get $15 million to make the film, we really just focused in on the characters [because] that was the material that was going to make or break this film. But the biggest shift was the comedy and pushing that out front and center more than it had been in earlier passes.”

Playing the rudderless Jules proved an irresistible, meaty prospect for Moore. “She’s caught in a moment in time when she’s so uncertain, she doesn’t know what her next move is. She doesn’t even understand why she feels the way she does. You’ve been taking care of the kids for 18 years and suddenly are like, wow, I’ve got to get it together because they’re going [away]. So I like that and her swipes at change. It’s messy, interesting and compelling.”

As for the aspect of Jules she liked the least? “That she cheats,” Moore responds. “It’s not admirable what she does, it’s really tough. It’s not intentional and it’s hurtful. It was a challenge to play. How do you rebound from something like that?”

A womanizer and cuckold on one hand yet sensitive male who listens to Joni Mitchell on the other,  the complex character of Paul (of whom even Ruffalo admits, “what the guy does is pretty fucked-up”) represented one of the film’s greatest creative successes, says Cholodenko. “That was some real brain surgery for us,” she admits. “We kept pushing until he was the right balance of sympathetic and schmucky.”

To Moore, that Jules has sex with a man doesn’t say anything about the character’s lesbian identity.

“It’s very important that when Nic says to her, ‘Are you straight now?’ she says no. It’s authentic — that’s the last thing on her mind. This guy was just someone who validated her. She needed to be seen as other than what she was within that family.”

Although Moore remained attached during the lengthy writing and pre-production process, finding an actor to play Nic waited until late in the game. “By the time they finally had the script and kinetic tone they wanted, Lisa had a short list of people and said, ‘What do you think of Annette? She’s the one I really see in this,’” Moore says. “I was like, ‘That sounds great.

I don’t know Annette but I’ll e-mail her.’ So I did. It’s a way to cut through. Things can take months if you [go through] an agent, but you can generally get a response from a peer pretty quickly.”

The lesbian component has so far received applause from straight and LGBT audiences alike. But what does it bring to the story?

“I don’t know,” Moore replies after a pause. “Everything and nothing, really. It’s a portrait of middle-aged marriage and a family in transition. In terms of them being lesbians, the most interesting thing is … I think films, rather than influence popular culture I think they reflect popular culture. So the fact we can have a movie like this means this is an ordinary American family.”

For their part, Cholodenko and Blumberg wanted Nic and Jules’ sexuality to be “offhand and incidental,” and they focused on keeping things universal.

“I think it was really just the focus on the inner life of those characters,” she explains, “and being clear about their dilemmas and giving them all an arc, a place to begin and journey to go through. That’s not always an easy thing to do with five characters, and to have them woven in a way there’s a lot of cause and effect. If anything I’m really proud we pulled that off.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 16, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Another lesbian custody case

Everyone is wondering where Lisa Miller is hiding out with her daughter Isabella to avoid having to relinquish custody of the child to her former partner — and Isabella’s other mother — Janet Jenkins of Vermont.

But out on the West Coast, in Santa Cruz, Calif., Kim T. Smith and Maggie Quale have a custody matter of their own on their minds right now.

According to MercuryNews.com, Smith and Quale are former partners who had twin boys together through artificial insemination. The babies are now 10 months old, and since their birth, Smith and Quale have split up and Quale is now romantically involved with the man who was the sperm donor for the babies, Shawn Wallace.

Smith and Quale never registered as domestic partners with the state, but both Smith and Quale are listed as the babies’ parents on their birth certificates, and the babies have hyphenated last name of Quale-Smith. Smith wants joint custody, but Quale and Wallace say they should get to be the little boys’ only parents.

Family law attorney Deborah Wald, who is representating Smith along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said if Quale and Wallace win the custody battle it would set a “dangerous precedent for lesbians having children with assistance of known sperm donors.”

Quale’s lawyer, Darlene Kemp, says the case has nothing to do with sexual orientation or LGBT rights, and is just a legal dispute between two parties. She says Smith does not meet the legal criteria of a presumed parent.

Well, I am not sure what the legal criteria for being a “presumed parent” are in California. But surely the fact that Smith is listed as a parent on the babies’ birth certificate and the babies share her last name should carry some weight!

I am also wondering when the right-wingers are going to latch onto this case, as they have to the Jenkins-Miller case. Isn’t it funny how the same people who attack us for going against “traditional values” are the people who do their best to keep up from following those values by getting married and loving and caring for our children?

—  admin