The kids are all right? Not according to the lesbian lobby

Hit film accused of trading on 'myth that all gay women secretly desire men'
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The Independent Culture

It has been billed by critics and fans as a Hollywood lesbian lifestyle movie with genuine mainstream appeal. But the Kids Are All Right is certainly not all right with one group – lesbians.

Director Lisa Cholodenko may be heavily tipped for an Oscar nomination for her film, which tells the story of two Californian gay mums, portrayed by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, and their children's search for their sperm donor father.

But the movie has won little praise from the gay community who say that the film trades on the heterosexual myth that all gay women secretly desire men. The problem, for some gay audiences, is the "surprise" romance between Moore's lesbian character, Jules, who jumps into bed with Paul, the hunky, motorbike-riding donor father of her children.

The message could not be clearer, lesbian critics say, when Moore is shown reeling as she first unzips Paul's trousers to stare at what lies within and gasps: "Well, hello!"

Dr Lisa Blackman, a reader of media and communications at Goldsmith's College, said the film was not being celebrated by many lesbians she knew because it fed the fantasies of a straight audience not a gay one.

"One of the biggest discourses that comes from a hetero-normative place is that 'all a lesbian needs is a good fuck' [by a man]. The adventure of the film lies in the heterosexual romance while the women's relationship is more about habit, monotony and routine... I have heard people say, 'Thank God it was not a film about earnest lesbians taking about lesbianism that I would not be interested in,'" she said.

A damning review entitled "The Kids Aren't All right" by Professor Jack (formerly Judith) Halberstam, a gender studies intellectual, has been circulating widely on online forums since the film's summer release in America. Questioning why it could not have been a sexually charismatic, leather-clad lesbian to have seduced Jules instead, he writes: "Once Paul [Mark Ruffalo] rides on to the scene on his classic black BMW motorcycle, bearing organic veggies and good wine, the cracks in the façade of lesbian domesticity appear and a rather predictable cycle of betrayal, infidelity and domestic upheaval begins."

Dr Róisí* Ryan-Flood, author of Lesbian Motherhood: Gender, Families and Sexual Citizenship and an academic at Essex University, says Ruffalo's role is an example of an over-familiar sub-plot. "There is a recurring pattern of male sexual access to the lesbian body in visual culture narratives of lesbian motherhood... It raises the question of which narratives featuring lesbians become mainstreamed and why."

Cholodenko's defenders say that as a gay mother, she realistically represents the fluid nature of sexual desire. Speaking to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the filmmaker felt the drama was "true" to her, and made no apologies for striving to capture mainstream hearts and minds.

"This is really inclusive of gay and straight and I like that. I was much more interested in reaching out to the male population than I was concerned about alienating a sector of the lesbian population," she said. These words are seen as a capitulation by some and a reality-check by others. One blogger on concluded: "This doesn't mean capital-L Lesbian films can't go mainstream – it's just that this might be the closest you're going to get."