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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 16, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 29
Exploring the all-American Lesbian family
Arts & Entertainment
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Exploring the all-American Lesbian family

An interview with The Kids Are All Right director Lisa Cholodenko

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Lisa Cholodenko burst onto the scene in 1998 with her independent hit High Art, an erotic drama about an intern at a small magazine entering into a torrid affair with a drug-addled Lesbian artist. Her 2002 follow-up, Laurel Canyon, didn't meet with near as much success, and even with actors like Frances McDormand and Christian Bale, the film couldn't help but feel like a step backwards.

Eight years later, Cholodenko is back, and to say The Kids Are All Right is the director's best effort yet would be one of 2010's most massive understatements. The story of a pair of children (Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson) who set out to discover the identity of the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) who allowed for their Lesbian parents' (Julianne Moore, Annette Bening) pregnancies, this is one of the smartest, funniest, most emotional and gloriously entertaining motion pictures of the year.

A hit at this past January's Sundance Film Festival and now screening around the country to rave reviews, I had a chance to speak with Cholodenko about her very personal motion picture and what it means to her that it is being embraced with such open arms.

Sara Michelle Fetters: I'd heard that The Kids Are All Right is your most personal effort yet. Why is that? Where did the idea for the film come from?

Lisa Cholodenko: It's one of those things where I was really immersed in my own family situation. My girlfriend and I wanted to have a kid [and] we were spending a lot of time talking about the pros and cons of anonymous donor versus obtaining sperm from somebody we knew. We decided to go with an anonymous donor, and then after that step there was the step of finding the person that was going to be the father of our child - we have a four-year-old now - and I was just totally consumed in that world.

When I sat down to write a script, at first blush, it just made sense. I'd been sitting here going through all of this and I thought, 18 years from now, what are things going to look like? What will they want to know? From that point, things just splintered off from my own experiences and I just hooked into that idea and went from there. So that's where it started; it started someplace personal and then went into complete fiction.

Fetters: With that in mind, how do you do the research for the "what-if" portion of this scenario? What was it like trying to look those 18 years into the future?

Cholodenko: When we decided to go with an anonymous donor, I asked a lot of questions. I was naturally interested in what the future would be for my kid, so I went to the people at the cryobank that we used and asked what would it mean for him when he turned 18. I wanted to know how he would go about making contact with this person if he wants to.

So, around the time when my co-writer [Stuart Blumberg] and I were writing the script, I'd discovered I'd already done a lot of the research. Additionally, it seemed like there were lots of articles and news programs, a few things in the New York Times, about donor kids coming of age and seeking out their sperm donor fathers or seeking out their half-siblings. I just became a kind of fiend for information.

Fetters: A fellow critic here in Seattle had the oddest reaction to the film, stating that he didn't understand why the Lesbian family wasn't all that different from a straight family other than there were two moms. I almost couldn't believe his reaction. Have you heard that before? How important was it for you to show that this family was just as loving, nurturing and, yes, quote-unquote "normal" as any so-called straight family would be?

Cholodenko: Yeah, I've definitely heard it a lot. In terms of the understated presentation of the family, and the fact it is a Gay family, I think that some people go in with these odd preconceptions as to what that presentation is supposed to be.

Our intention was to keep things rather simple, to keep things understated and typical, which in our minds was a stronger sort of political position, that it was kind of subversive in a way because it is so normalized. You're not consumed with the Gay themes or the issues of a Gay person, but more allowed to become consumed inside this world of humans, of parents trying to keep their family together while dealing with mid-life marriage, and of kids trying to make their way in the world as adults - there was power in keeping that [part] of the film as restrained as we could.

Fetters: Now that the picture is leaving the festival circuit and making its way into general release, what do you hope people are talking about when they leave the theater? What do you hope is on their mind?

Cholodenko: I want them talking about how much they identify with what the family has gone through, that they found some sort of confidence or buffer in looking at a marriage 20 years into its life. I want them to have an idea or be reminded about what it is like to say goodbye to your kids. I really do think in a way this [film] is a very traditional, all-American style of experience, that the variances that this family goes through and the things that threaten their unity are really common, the sperm donor stuff aside, and I hope people can find comfort, humor, and drama in that. I hope that the movie is a great ride for them.

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