Tuesday, January 4, 2011

All Right Is Not Alright

So I saw the move "The Kids Are All Right." I know this movie was the talk of last summer, but I knew I wouldn't like it then so I waited for it to be released on video to see it. I saw it in December on DVD, and I found it enjoyable. It is an entertaining movie. Contrary to my expectations I found it to be funny. The characters were well written and played, and the plot kept me guessing. I didn't realize there would be as much explicit sex, but that is--in the nomenclature of today's laid back acceptance--all good. But I still think the whole premise, at least insofar as it dealt with the male characters, is utter bullshit.

I hate message movies even if I am ineluctably drawn to them. I have some weird sense that I must keep up with what everyone else is talking about. So I see all kinds of movies. Christ, I saw "The Transformers" just to see what it was all about (It sucked). So I watched "The Kids Are All Right." I have no problem with homosexuality per se, but I find that strident defenses of it (like this movie) lack any sense of proportion, reality and reasonableness. "Milk" was similar, but a better movie.

So even though I'm writing about this film many months after its hype, it is still one of those movies like "Million Dollar Baby," "Chocolat," "Amelie," "Kinsey," "The Wrestler," "Wall Street, Pt. 2," etc. that I feel compelled to see because "everyone" is talking about it. It if it is too late to talk about it, then so be it.

The first thing to be said about this movie is that unfortunately it is not the great film documentary about the rock band The Who called "The Kids Are Alright"--a film which is itself named after a great song by the same band. I wouldn't mind the shortcomings of this film if it were at least as wonderful as the Who's "1921" from "Tommy." Okay, maybe this is too strong a criticism, but then why name this movie as such? If you don't want to be compared to the Who, then don't (mis)name your movie after one of their songs. Granted, I watched "The Kids Are All Right" not "The Kids Are Alright." I wished I had seen the latter. At least in that film, the alcoholism and social dysfunction was taken for granted, and as a result that band made some of the most interesting rock music of the last 50 years. Instead, in "The Kids Are All Right," we the audience are supposed to applaud this daring unconventional family that can't dare enough to let the sperm donor be a part of their lives. Instead they treat him like shit--or rather as a sperm donor, i.e., scumbag.

Yet I can't get over this ridiculous title. Remembering my 7th grade teacher--a woman whom our class secretly but collectively called Colonel Kampe (so named for her almost militaristic demand that we memorize grammar, punctuation, parts of speech, as well the Emily Dickinson poem "There Is No Frigate Like a Book")--all right and alright were important distinctions. Alright is a word that points to an adverbial sense of doing just okay or fine. After your boyfriend has broken up with you, I see you and ask, "Are you doing alright? " Whereas all right points adjectively to a collective noun where all are in the right. If I am a State Department spokesman after a terrorist blows up an embassy I say, "Everything is all right."

Already you may get the sense why I think the Who's music (and documentary) is alright, but I don't think the kids in the movie of the eponymously named film are all right. In fact I think this all right notion regarding this movie constrains any independent thought. Everyone must be all right, and this is not alright it seems to me. I don't want to be a part of all right (in this case), even though I'm doing alright. David Foster Wallace has a short story about "Good People." They are all right--all the right opinions, attitudes, habits, etc. Count me out!

This is a movie about confused sex. No one can make it alone. We need others to provide for us as we provide for them. The origins of the family stem from the basic needs that each of us demands. Whether it is simply providing for a home, or providing for the guidance of children who need many years to be instructed in the right way, the family is an institution that has been formed through the mists of tradition to help us in our life. In spite of these things, we're all confused.

This movie showed the ways in which these women could not provide for their children, let alone for themselves in a deep manner. The mores, character, education and culture that the family provides is seriously stunted in this family. These women, after many years together, and all the accoutrements that a yuppie lifestyle provides, are confused--and so are their children. This reality may be true of everyone in the movie, but call me the virgin in the whorehouse to exclaim that this family would be better off with man.

I enjoyed watching these fucked up people even as I knew I was being indoctrinated into considering the limits of what makes a family. That fact made the fun of the movie continually present as the nagging admixture to the shocking fact that Joni and Laser had two mommies (Jules and Nic) and an unknown sperm donor (Paul).

Why is Paul considered the bad guy here? At the end of the day, this is an anti-male movie--even as it shows that Paul has a good influence on Laser. Laser realizes that hanging out with his dope snorting, Michael Vick animal cruelty friend is not good after he has spent time with his "father." Apparently it is better to confirm the lives and "commitment" of two aging lesbos than it is in confirming the formation of a young man. In fact, these women want him to be gay, and they reject the only male figure--as limited and weak and irresponsible as he is--to be a formative figure in his life.

Of course, after all these years Paul can't be these kids father, but these kids needed a father and Jules and Nic could not provide this. Yes, they raised the kids well, but there is more to life than getting into a good college.

If anything, this movie confirmed my prejudice in favor of the monogamous mommy/daddy family.

As Harvey Mansfield pointed out, there is a lack on "manliness" in today's culture. This movie confirms that to the nth degree.

The Who may not be John Wayne, but when they sang about "The Kids Are Alright," they meant it. Roger Daltrey may have been short, but he was a fighter. A fighter for what? It is true that manliness must be coupled with things for which one should be manly. But let me give a song for Laser--not from the movie. It's The Who's rendition of a Mose Allison Song called "Young Man Blues."

Perhaps it speaks to manliness. Maybe this is the point of the whole movie, but I can't imagine Hollywood greenlighting a film with as reactionary views as mine. However, these days I don't know. Are the kids really alright/all right?

Update: Spoken more fluently than me is this review of the movie.

Update 2: Of course there was no religion or any relationship with God represented in this movie. Maybe in the sequel I could pose as someone who could show Laser that Christianity perhaps speaks to his deepest longings. I would have to be a professor/teacher type character. Maybe at a community college. Oh wait, I already teach at a community college. Don't worry, I'm not breaching the separation of church and state. As a Catholic I don't believe in the priesthood of all believers.

But that would require belief--see my Thoughts on Lessing below.