“All I really want our love to do…

…is to bring out the best in me and you” Joni Mitchell “All I Want.”

After declaring Please Give to be the best movie I’d seen this year, along comes another small movie with a big heart, The Kids Are All Right, to serve as a perfect west coast companion piece to Please Give’s New York City.

While Please Give captures the texture, tone and spirit of the rather specific slice of New York City in which I have lived and loved in an earlier chapter of my life, and through which I wander in my imagination when I read about plays, restaurants and exhibits in “the paper of record” (but from which I am currently blocked from fully savoring by economics and time zones), The Kids Are All Right is a movie that would probably make me miss the very specific LA in which I live, wander and wonder… if I were sweating this summer out in New York.

Beyond tone and verisimilitude, both these films moved me by dealing with parenting teenagers and the complex emotions of everyone in a family changing at the same time.  While much of the life blood of New York is available on the street, the essence of Los Angeles life often happens within the private confines of bedrooms and kitchens—and The Kids Are All Right takes you right on in—and in mirroring the angst, the wishes to get it right, the misfires and crossed wires, and in ultimately releasing a flood of my own not easily evoked (at least by cinema) tears at the movie’s Circle Game farewell by parents of a child as she goes off to college The Kids Are All Right gave me comfort by bridging, at least for a flickering Arclight moment, the existential veil of alienation that hangs over so much of human relating, especially in LA.

While I’m not keen to “review” this film, other than to say you ought to see it (and, BTW, not with kids—at least not kids younger than whatever age at which you believe one is ready to watch a little hard core gay porn and some graphic “straight” sex between a hetero man and a sexy confused lesbian).

There are many wonderful scenes in the film, but one stands out in my mind:  a dinner party where all sorts of complex feelings interweave as the scruffily charming sperm donor but not true “father” (as played by Mark Ruffalo) starts to break through with the tougher of two moms (fantastically played by Annette Bening)—by singing Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” together.

As a hetero male who loves Joni Mitchell, a tossed off comic line in the film where Annette Bening’s character starts to like this, “straight guy who loves Joni Mitchell,” left me asking myself, “Just how many straight guys are there who truly love Joni Mitchell?”  This seems complex both from a sensitive-guy perspective, but also from an age perspective (after all, how many guys younger than my generation would have even heard of Joni Mitchell?).  So, is it that there are more of us Joni Mitchell-loving-straight-sensitive-men than I had thought?  Or did a gifted lesbian make a movie just for me?

On the other hand, my closest lesbian friends liked the film, but didn’t love it as much as I did.  This made me wonder if Lisa Cholodenko (the director, and a woman who Andy was friends with when we first moved to LA twenty-two years ago) had succeeded in making a “cross-over” film, by which I mean that a film that shows authenticity and a parenting attitude has a way of potentially connecting everyone with everyone.

I’ve grown away from wanting to rate one thing against another (i.e. one kid against another, one film, one paradigm of spirituality or of success) and instead have found myself striving to appreciate the complexity and diversity of our world—its beauty and its pain… and the strange truth about everything being true all at once, at least to me.

Because The Kids Are All Right is a very specific tale about a lesbian couple raising children who are of a donor (again a point of connection with Please Give—asking us to consider what it is that we have to give, and helping us understand that sperm might be one of the easiest things for a man to “give” and a far cry from parenting) some parents who have had donors as part of their child-birth experience may find fault with the film for not representing their experience.

One thing that I think unites us across sexual orientation, gender and culture is a common curiosity about sex, and an interest in things erotic; the catch is that there is great diversity in what any one person might find erotic.  While the characters in The Kids Are All Right watch gay male porn, a lesbian friend of mine told me that she doesn’t like to watch any porn, straight or gay, while some of her friends do indeed like porn; what my friend agreed with me on, however, is that it’s sexy to watch people be sexual if we believe that their desire is authentic.

The two moms in The Kids Are All Right say that they don’t like lesbian porn because they know that the girls are usually hetero and faking it.  Fake is not sexy.  They further make the point that sometimes seeing male equipment in a state of arousal is sexy because it is desire outwardly expressed while physical female arousal is inwardly expressed.  This is an interesting concept that has foundation in recent sexual research literature (see NY Times Magazine article from January of this year about what women want), yet I think that authentic desire is arousing to everyone (just like crying babies vibrationally prompt nearby babies to cry), it’s just so rarely found in American films (as opposed to stunted men ogling women who merely have to take their shirts off for it to be considered “sexual”); thus from an acting standpoint (not to mention a living relationships standpoint), it’s believability of connection and desire that wins the day.

Another of my favorite moments in The Kids Are All Right is when the Mark Ruffalo character thinks he’s in love with the Julianne Moore character and calls her to say that he really thinks they can make it work, and she shouts at him on the phone, “I’m gay!”  She knows who she is and the family knows who is family and who is a lunk-headed interloper—cute and unboundaried, and with plenty of issues that he’ll need to deal with before he can learn how to sustain a real relationship.

My point:  we’re all connected, already.  Thus the “only connect” idea is ultimately about bringing our paradisal truth of vast interconnectedness back into fuller consciousness, (while still being able to think for ourselves and not just be trees or insects).  A life well lived, even in the service of a better world, is not, in my view, about creating “big” social change—it’s the micro-connecting we do personally with each other.  Art reflects and forwards this, but even art is about a few film-maker/artisans making one specific story at a time (socially together in their little troupe).  Social change will organically ripple out from shifts in consciousness, not from anyone telling us that we need to change or how we should change.  Perhaps getting out of our own way is something we’re all in the process of doing—each at our own pace.  When this happens:  voila, we connect with each other.

We’re all on a lonely road, and it’s the connecting about that that just might prove to be the balm in our Gilead.

My conclusion:  the grown-ups are, each in his or her own way, all right and alright too.

So, let’s dedicate today to celebrating a parenting attitude toward the world, giving what we can and trusting that we’re all in this together and that when we live and love accordingly we’re all alright, and that’s alright with me.

Namaste, Bruce

p.s. I understand that some email subscribers to this blog have not been getting emails.  I have changed the subscription button at the side to a WordPress rather than a feedburner email option, so please subscribe again (or for the first time) and feel free to unsubscribe from Google/feedburner.

And always feel free to email me directly at poptheworld at att.net with any comments or questions.

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9 Responses to ““All I really want our love to do…”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    This is a film I’m definitely hoping to see – in part because of the fine actors – and also, the less than traditional parenting which presumably takes place. Something that appeals to me because any view of relationships and connecting and parenting that opens our eyes to the diversity of ways of relating, living connection, and tending our children appeals to me.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      And part of the film’s charm and positivity is how while showing an “alternative” family it presents universal themes of family and parenting—the very essence of what can help us all inter-connect and form more nurturing and enjoyable community.

  2. Erica@PinesLakeRedhead Says:

    Just like BLW, this movie is on my list because of the actors. Also, the story line with all of the relationships within the family. The eldest child about to leave for college hits very close to home for me. I might have to find a friend to see the movie with me because my husband raised his eyebrow when he saw the previews. But then I’ve never asked him if he likes Joni Mitchell.

  3. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I’ve been DYING to see this movie! Thanks for the first look into it–now I’m even more excited to bring my tissues and sit in a dark theater!

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      I hope you’ll like it and, BTW, what’s TKW’s approach to optimal popcorn? I mean the overpriced stuff at the movies is part of the experience, but it’s certainly not the best tasting. Any tips on really getting it right at home?

  4. Julie Bond Genovese Says:

    I love your whole soulful blog!!! xo Julie

  5. Molly@Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce Says:

    I saw this movie this weekend and was really touched by it. I also loved the Joni scene and it made me yearn for the few straight men that I used to know that loved her too. Then I remembered that being a Joni fan just isn’t the only thing that will tie me to a man. But I am charmed to hear you like her too.

    I too wrote a blogpiece on the movie, mainly about its treatment of infidelity and how it made me think of my own experiences. Check it out.http://www.postcardsfromapeacefuldivorce.com/488/the-kids-are-all-right/

    Oh and I found you through BigLittleWolf. Nice to meet you.

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