Monday, August 9, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

Cholodenko, Lisa, Dir. The Kids Are All Right. Mandalay Vision, 2010.

Spoiler alert…plot details toward the end of the film are disclosed in this blog.

After a lesbian married couple discovers that their 2 teenage kids have secretly invited their sperm donor (same guy) into their family’s life, they struggle to embrace his arrival into their lives. Actually, only one mother struggles; the other has an affair with Donor Dad. If this isn’t a hospitality concern, what is?

The Kids Are All Right is not a feel-good movie, as the trailer and the movie’s opening scenes suggest. Director Lisa Cholodenko leads us on with a romantic look at lesbian love—family style. As the movie unfolds, however, her romantic look becomes a realistic gaze at deception, excess, power, insecurity, unforgiveness, disloyalty, dependence, ingratitude--and eventually, the reverse of all those human foibles. So much of what goes wrong for this family and this guy—and it’s a long list—can be attributed to breaches of hospitality. Admittedly, that HM perspective oversimplifies their troubles; nonetheless, hospitality violations indicate that their lives are seriously botched and bungled.

Let’s start with the obvious violations. Before the sex, Paul (DD) invites Jules (the free-spirited composting mom) into his house for her first landscaping business job. Ironically, the invitation seems to be less in his backyard and more into his house. Paul, who is sexing another woman from his restaurant, falls in love with Mother Jules, but she’s just in it for the sex. (Of course, she’s desperately longing for recognition and only using sex to “live the examined life.” But from my theater chair, it pretty much looks like “just sex.”) Clearly, Jules violates hospitality morality because she has abused his invitation to landscape his yard and enter his home. Paul, himself, breaches hospitality codes. He becomes enamored with the kids, especially, the daughter, and gives her a ride home on his motorcycle although he knows that it’s Mother Nic’s hardcore prohibition. He breaches the mothers’ hospitality of allowing him into their family by not just disregarding one of their rules but also, confronting her with it—pulling up at their home. We know that we should not side with his maverick actions because he defends himself as a good driver although he has previously acknowledged that he beats traffic jams by weaving in and out of traffic. (If you think that motorcycle safety depends on the motorcyclists, read The Invisible Gorilla). Paul further breaches hospitality codes when, after meeting Laser’s friend for one skateboard stunt, Paul casually condemns the friend’s integrity to his “son.” This is a hospitality issue because Laser has invited Paul to meet his friend. Paul invites Joni into his garden and then, encourages her to defy her mother although what he knows about parenting you could put into a pea pod. The list goes on…Jules fires the worker because she doesn’t like the look on his face. This is a hospitality violation because she has invited/hired him. Nic berates their friends at a restaurant after guzzling too much wine. This is a hospitality violation because they breach host-guest codes for a meal. Speaking of meals, many go awry. Hospitality at the table suffers as the movie progresses. No petit Shiraz is going to fix these dinners.

So how does all this become resolved?  Well, it doesn't for Paul.  But HM is not concerned with him and, ultimately, neither is the movie.  This family cannot afford to extend Paul any more hospitality, for his influence is destructive.  He undermines marital fidelity and parental authority.  Ironically, the end to the hospitality breaches occurs when each family member rejects Paul and refuses to offer him any future hope for returning as a guest.  They are not only realistic in their rejection, they are right.  HM applauds their courage to bar the door against this home wrecker.  We know this from the Odyssey.   Because the plundering suitors have violated zenois codes, Odysseus must reject them and reinstall stability to his oikos.  Thus, to protect your marriage and family from intruders is to maintain supreme hospitality codes.

I’d like to stop here and ask a question. Are the hospitality breaches the cause of the family’s problems or the result of them? I’d like to say that they’re the cause and wave my Hospitality Power banner, suggesting, as I’ve done in the past that if we all—as guests and hosts—treated each other well, we’d avoid all the world’s problems except for natural disasters and nasty diseases. I believe that. But, honestly, the movie doesn’t. The movie suggests that an imbalance of power is the core of the problem. Feeling this imbalance, people are going to act “grubby” to each other, as Jules admits in her final speech. HM translates “grubby” as “inhospitable.” When people don’t feel appreciated and don’t self-actualize, they can’t help but fail as guests and hosts. It seems, Cholodenko instructs us, that we must first self-actualize before we can truly become good hosts and good guests.

After years of being nagged and threatened to floss my teeth, I was finally inspired (I'm talking every night, now) when my dental hygienist scolded: "Everybody wants a quick fix.  But there's no quick fix.  You just have to do the work."  Suddenly, I heard my father and my mother.  And I heard myself, admonishing any CliffsNotes reading student to just read the book.  Hospitality is like flossing.  You have to do the work to become a good host and guest.  The Kids Are All Right illustrates that we can't be hospitable until we take care of ourselves and our relationships.  Only then--fulfilling the work of self-actualizing--can we strive toward hospitality morality.

BTW, Jules’s “grubby” speech alone is worth the admission price.

Freedom to Marry:
Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays:

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"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." - from A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf