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Kids with Same-Sex Parents are All Right: A Conversation with Lisa Cholodenko

by Vera von Kreutzbruck

Last winter film director Lisa Cholodenko came to Berlin to present The Kids Are All Right at the International Film Festival. Dressed in black with short dark hair and thick-framed glasses Cholodenko is an outgoing and witty person, who occasionally swears. She has a winning sense of humor, which is reflected in the new movie. Her films portray the clash between conservative and creative milieus, places she knows first-hand. Though The Kids Are All Right has not done well outside of the large cities and art house theaters, the topic is “timely” and significant.

On July 15, 2010 a civil rights milestone was set – Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage. Not so long ago, in fact until 1983, homosexuals were persecuted. Homosexuals in Argentina now have the same rights as heterosexuals, including the right to adoption, inheritance, pension, and social security. This is a sign of evolution in a nation in which a Macho-driven culture unfortunately still prevails.

Before same-sex marriage was legalized in Argentina, one of the most fiercely debated topics in the Senate was whether to allow gay couples to adopt. Opponents fear that children raised by same-sex couples will not develop properly. But a recent study reveals that young children with same-sex parents are as well-adjusted as their counterparts with heterosexual parents.

Research conducted by the University of Virginia investigated child development and parenting in 27 lesbian couples, 29 gay male couples, and 50 heterosexual couples with young adopted children. Parents, teachers, and external caregivers evaluated the preschoolers’ behavior and gender development.

The results revealed that family type was not significantly associated with parent reports of child adjustment, including children’s behavior problems and gender role development. They also demonstrated that “family type was not significantly associated with parents’ reports of parenting stress, parent discipline techniques, or couple relationship adjustment.” The study concluded that “parental sexual orientation did not emerge as an important predictor of any outcomes.”

Four years ago film director Lisa Cholodenko gave birth to her child with the help of a sperm donor. During the process she decided to make a movie about it. The Kids Are All Right was one of the most talked about movies at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The dialogue is smart and amusing – often playing on society’s prejudice against homosexual couples. The cast’s performances are all fantastic. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening play the lesbian parents, Mark Ruffalo is the sperm donor, and Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson are the teen children.

In a room with dark wood-paneled walls of a fancy Berlin hotel I sat with Lisa Cholodenko to talk about family upbringing, gay marriage, and the intention of her film:

Do you think that your new movie The Kids Are All Right shows a family situation in a way that nobody has seen before in cinema?

I do. It feels like a relief because when I was writing I thought this is too good, this is too timely. I was so amazed that nobody took that subject on before. The press coverage about gay marriage and kids finding their sperm donors in the States is becoming so popular.

The movie is about family. Why did you choose the title The Kids Are All Right for it?

I think it’s my ironic comment about how people are always afraid that kids of gay parents are going to get fucked up. In this case the kids are more stable than their moms.

Did you choose to make the script more comedic to broaden the appeal to a mainstream audience?

I just felt that the subject really lent itself to that. There is something so inheritably ridiculous about all of it. I totally respect and identify with it. It’s very much my own experience because my partner and I have a kid with a sperm donor. When you peel away the layers of what happens in a long term marriage: people going outside of the marriage to keep their marriage exciting, or what they don’t do. I can’t play this straight. It would be ridiculous. Everybody is struggling, but it’s kind of ridiculous too.

The two moms are very different.

Annette Bening is more type A. She wears the pants in the family and is less overt with her feelings. Juliane Moore is more the nurturing, “get in touch with your feelings” kind of mom. It was a fun thing to play with and that it actually was plausible that these people with such psychological differences would be attracted to each other.

It’s not the first movie where you have free-spirited characters clash with more structured people. This dynamic seems to be a recurring theme. What attracts you so much to this exchange between characters?

I think that it’s something that is universal. Maybe it’s expressed in a very specific way in my films because they are in very specific places and milieus. The tension between going the right path, the conventional path, and moving outside the box, doing the wrong thing, I think that that is a universal theme. So far I’m still interested in it. It might be the last one.

What was your own upbringing like? Was it strict?

It was a little bit of both, which is why I can switch between these two worlds. It was conventional in the sense that my parents have been married 50 years and they still live in the house that I grew up in. There was always dinner at seven o’clock when my dad got home. But I grew up in Los Angeles in a liberal environment. Things were a little bit looser – it was the seventies.

There was a rigid structure at home?

There was a rigid sense of family life and appropriateness as a family, about what you did: the whole thing with “Did you write the thank you card, did you call blah blah blah?” Those sorts of things. In certain families there is this idea of what is appropriate and I had a mother that was quite like that. It’s oppressive, you always had to be doing the appropriate thing. On the other hand, both of my parents worked and we were kind of on our own during the day and it wasn’t like we were supervised and had to have our homework checked or anything like that. We were smoking pot and hanging out and nobody was really noticing.

What would you like people to walk away with after seeing this movie?

I feel like it’s really a film about family. It’s a portrait of a family. I want people to walk away with a really good feeling about family. That it was a fair, sort of even-handed representation of the shit people go through and the storms people can weather and kind of stick it out for good reasons with genuine feeling intact because I really think that families are great if you can make them work. I’m all for the family, especially with kids in the picture.

Do you think that the film can help gay marriage become more accepted in America?

Yes, all the stuff that is going on brings me down. I’m proud that this film isn’t overtly political. It’s just a portrait, it’s just a story and I think it’s coming in a good time. I feel ashamed of what is going on in our culture.

Do you think it’s getting better?

I think it’s changing. It’s incredibly slow, much slower than it should be and much slower than Western Europe. I’m pleased that it translated culturally here in Germany, that cross-cultures are responding to it, that’s really hopeful to me.

Do you think that Catherine Bigelow winning an Oscar is a milestone in the film industry?

Yes, it’s a step forward but I don’t see things changing for women in a quick or epic way. But I think incrementally we see more opportunities and women taking out projects that are bigger, more lucrative, more ambitious.

About the Author
Vera von Kreutzbruck was born in Argentina. She started her career in journalism at the English language newspaper, Buenos Aires Herald. After a fellowship in Germany, she decided to settle in Berlin. She currently works as a freelance journalist contributing to media in Europe and Latin America. Her articles focus on international news and culture in Germany and the European Union.

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