The Kids Are All Right: for white people only?

The Kids Are All Right is a good movie, don’t get me wrong. I’m just contemplating whether or not my enjoyment of the movie was tempered by my eternal inner monologue of “…white people.” Plot points will, of course, be discussed, so read more after the jump (I’ve always wondered what it would be like to write that).

So this whole movie revolves around an affluent white family living in some California suburb and a rough patch in their family dynamic. The kids are 18 and 15 and the parents are a one-is-a-doctor and one-is-a-hippie pair. Oh, and did you know that the parents are two moms? SHOCKING, I know. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t really dwell on the whole “omglesbians” piece and rather allows the viewers to realize that a family is just a family – problems come up and are dealt with among individual people with individual personalities, not some weird stereotype of homosexuals with long-term relationship problems. This was what made this a good movie, despite my white people confusion.

Quick recap: The kids find their sperm donor dad and the stereotypically masculine doctor mom feels put out. The wishy-washy hippie mom sleeps with the self-absorbed hippie sperm donor and all hell breaks loose. People fight and shit goes down, but the moms hold hands in the end, having been reminded by their son that he is, after all, a perfectly normal teenager. FIN.

My main issues with the movie were that a) there was a whole lot of seemingly gratuitous (read: needless) sex/nudity, and b) I often felt very uncomfortable or confused and could only think to myself “…white people.” Since I attended the movie with two white girls, I had to keep it to myself and am now ranting about it on my blog instead.

Now, I don’t have a problem with sex/porn/nip slips/whatever, but I failed to see how multiple extended sex scenes added anything to the movie at all. Perhaps the whole idea was to take the audience slightly out of a comfortable viewing zone, but to me, it felt unnecessary and overwrought. Putting emphasis on and getting laughs using things that happen every day (like, you know, sex) made me feel bored in a sea of uptight titillated white people. Okay, it’s hilarious that moms are having sex to a gay male porno and they accidentally hit the remote and turn the volume up and are sort of overheard by the daughter. But, is this accurate? Is it only funny because it’s gay porn? Did I need to see so much of said porn out in public? Was that meant to make all the white people in the audience giggle nervously? Am I just too used to homosexuality because I’m a musician? As Kenneth said on 30 Rock, “Like my cousin, Steven, after he went to music college, it will come out!”

Moving past all of those questions leaves us with the issue of white bias in the movies. I felt like I got distracted from the intended goal of some scenes because I was so confused about why it was happening in the first place. For instance, in a scene where Laser (the VERY unfortunately named son) watches his friend wrestle with his dad, I guess the audience was supposed to understand Laser’s longing to meet his own father. However, the only thing I could think was: “White people are so weird… and who lets their kids tell them their armpit smells like burnt ass?! I would have been so dead!” The same goes for that kid’s name; I spent a good chunk of the movie wondering where such a dumb nickname came from, only to find out that his parents REALLY HAD NAMED HIM LASER, and that “Las” for short is apparently unacceptable. I mean, WHAT. And the girl was named Joni, after (duh?) Joni Mitchell. Except, oops, I didn’t get it. Nor did I get the whole a capella rendition of Joni Mitchell scene – THAT made me uncomfortable, though white movie critics claim it to be the defining touching/bonding moment of the movie. Girls making out? Fine. Porn? Fine. White people singing, nay, BELTING, at the dinner table? THAT IS NOT OKAY. THAT IS WEIRD, NOT TOUCHING.

Finally, I can’t help but think about all the conversations I’ve had with Vivian about Asian representation in media, especially movies and television. Most of the time I don’t think about it terribly hard; after all, “actor/actress” falls pretty near the bottom of the “jobs Asian American people tend to occupy” list. However, The Kids Are All Right finally made me wish that, just once, I could watch an accurate representation of Asian American life in a movie theater. [Note: I am revisiting this in 2019 and I still understand my thought process but wow was it flawed.]

Why can’t I go see a movie wherein a couple of American-born Chinese (ABC) kids struggle between honoring traditional values and fitting in with their American peers? Is Joy Luck Club all we’re going to get? Should I write it? Would I eventually get saddened by the fact that I myself am generalizing a set of disparate cultures when we should be recognizing that all people are individuals with their own experiences?

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