Byline: Jennie Yabroff
Two hot lesbians face serious relationship drama when one starts sleeping with the couple's baby daddy. A sex-starved middle-aged housewife seduces her son's 20-something friend. A horny dad gets it on with his teen daughter's cosmetician on her massage table. Now, you tell us: does this sound like an episode of Jerry Springer, or a weekend at the art-house cinema?
If you guessed both, congratulations. While these plotlines might seem ripped from tawdry daytime TV, they are in fact elements of three decidedly high-minded independent films currently in theaters: The Kids Are All Right, I Am Love, and Please Give. Rather than being presented for the audience's voyeuristic derision, the characters' choices are portrayed without judgment as the sort of midlife challenges all sensitive, upper-middle-class adults face. While it's not fair to say these films have the same intentions or aspirations as lowest-common-denominator television, it is interesting to ask why the same subject matter feels so different when presented as "art" instead of exploitation. Is it a question of sensitivity--or set design?
In The Kids Are All Right, Lisa Cholodenko's lo-fi, finely observed drama, a longtime lesbian couple's stability is shattered when their children's dad (via sperm donation) comes back into the picture. And what an attractive picture it is: Nic and Jules share an expansive Craftsman bungalow with deep marble tub, widescreen TV, and lush backyard. They drink fancy wine, wear fashionably distressed bohemian-chic T shirts, and drive a safe-yet-sporty station wagon. Paul, their two kids' "bio-dad," is similarly tasteful in his lifestyle: he owns a trendy organic restaurant, lives in a cool loft in the hills, and has an appropriately eclectic record collection. (Nic, originally wary of Paul, softens once she discovers a shared love of Joni Mitchell.)
The performances, especially that of Annette Bening as the tightly wound Nic, are outstanding, and Cholodenko has a fine-grained feel for the warp and weft of monogamy. But you do have to wonder how the story would read if it were set in a trailer park, the characters all wore sweatpants, and instead of bonding over a plate of grass-fed beef …