Lisa Cholodenko’s lesbian drama “The Kids Are All Right” is celebrating its 10th anniversary this summer. The film was a breakout hit of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, where it was purchased by Focus Features in a deal worth $4 million. Made on a production budget at the same cost, “The Kids Are All Right” was a box office success with $34 million worldwide and an awards darling with four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Original Screenplay.
While the success of “The Kids Are All Right” was a milestone moment for queer cinema, its release was not without backlash. The film was criticized for featuring a lesbian romance in which one of the women (Julianne Moore) has an affair with a male character (Mark Ruffalo). There was also the casting of straight actors Moore and Annette Bening in gay roles. As part of a new oral history of the film published by Variety, Moore and Cholodenko reacted to some of the backlash 10 years later.
“I can see why people took issue with a lesbian character having an affair with her sperm donor,” Moore said. “On the other hand, I think that Jules’ character was someone described as being very fluid, sexually and personally. She was floating, in the sense of her entire identity — as a woman, as a person, in her career.”
While Moore sees a defense in her queer character having an affair with a man, she’s more agreeable with the backlash over a straight actress playing a lesbian character. The actress said, “I’ve thought about that a lot. Here we were, in this movie about a queer family, and all of the principal actors were straight. I look back and go, ‘Ouch. Wow.'”
Moore added, “I don’t know that we would do that today, I don’t know that we would be comfortable. We need to give real representation to people, but I’m grateful for all of the experiences that I’ve had as an actor because my job is to communicate a universality of experience to the world. The idea that, rather than othering people, we’re saying we’re all the same. Our humanity is shared.”
Cholodenko is an openly gay filmmaker and says the backlash over straight actors playing gay roles is a “super interesting argument.” For the filmmaker, casting Moore and Bening in the lead roles did not take away from the queerness of the characters or the movie.
“When I cast Julianne and Annette, I really felt like, on the continuum of gayness, I could feel their gayness,” Cholodenko said. “It didn’t feel phony to me. I didn’t feel like I was putting somebody in an outfit and asking them to parade as something that was false.”
Earlier in the conversation, Cholodenko said, “I tend to err on the side of, ‘It’s make believe,’ and it’s of the discretion of the director who’s the most compelling for that job. So, I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive. While I want to promote gay people representing gay people, trans people, all the rest, queer people — it’s also a commercial prospect. It’s all those things.”
Head over to Variety to read the full oral history of “The Kids Are All Right.”