The Kids Are All Right: The Modern Family

Note: Hi! Do you enjoy badly-written, pretentious college-age analytical essays?!?!?! I KNOW I DO!  I wrote this piece a million years ago for my second-year film class when I was taking journalism at Humber. I have vague memories of publishing this essay soon after graduation, but lo and behold, there it was sitting neglected and dusty in the barrel-bottom of the drafts section. So, enjoy!

The Kids Are All Right (2010) is a drama/comedy directed by Lisa Cholodenko that comments on how contemporary Western society views the institution of same-sex marriage and child-rearing. Joni Allgood (Mia Wasikowska) is pressured by her half-brother, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) into helping him track down their sperm donor, Paul Hatfield (Mark Ruffalo), without the consent or knowledge of their married lesbian mothers, Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore). When Nic and Jules discover that their children have gone behind their backs, they feel threatened that the inclusion of Paul may corrupt the balance of their family, especially when Joni confides that she would like to spend more time with him. The film comments on how marital circumstances have changed over the years, and as such, unconventional families (in this case, “the perfect lesbian family,” a quote from the film itself) sometimes feel challenged by a relatively traditional world to prove themselves, but the overall dynamic of family values (such as support, commitment, and honesty) still apply despite the change of gender roles/sexual orientation in contemporary marriage.

“Don’t mind Laser. He’s just jealous because I have a car and
he’s got daddy issues. And his name is stupid.”

A scene that reflects the idea of this comes early in the film when Jules and Nic decide to limit Paul’s involvement with the kids. Instead of flat out denying Joni’s desire to see Paul again, Nic and Jules invite Paul over for a family barbeque, with the intention of what Nic calls, “killing him with kindness”. In this scene, Lisa Cholodenko uses cinematography, proxemics, mise en scene, and light to illustrate what life for the Allgoods is like – but also to establish Nic and Jules’s secret ill feelings towards Paul, but still attempting to support Joni’s wish to see him again.

The scene is framed with contrasting medium-high-key light and medium shots, with Paul standing on the left side of the frame, and Nic and Jules standing close together, a few feet away, on the right side of the frame. This composition relates to social distance, which is typically “reserved for impersonal business and casual social gatherings” (Giannetti and Leach, “Understanding Movies”, p. 127), but Cholodenko uses these proxemic patterns to make Paul feel intimidated by the intimate space shared between Nic and Jules, suggesting “such behaviour might be interpreted as standoffish” (Giannetti and Leach, p. 127), which accurately reflects their disapproval and own intimidation of his presence.

“Who needs a man when you have wine?”

As the scene progresses, the get-together transitions to the backyard, around a picnic table where Paul and the Allgoods have a barbeque meal together. The use of high-key light and mise en scene is important in this transition, although Cholodenko uses them subtly by focusing on close-up angles of Paul and the Allgoods. Surrounding the group are various objects that suggest the ideals of a typical well-to-do family (such as an expensive barbeque, a well-maintained yard, etc) and therefore when there are quick glimpses of these objects, “the frame is likened to a window through which the audience may satisfy its impulse to pry into the intimate details of the characters’ lives” (Giannetti and Leach, p. 100). Coupled by Cholodenko’s focus on the group’s conversation about life and experience – as well as Joni’s rebelling at her moms’ embarrassing pride of her graduation speech – the scene is shot with a realist, documentary-like technique to “suggest the copiousness of life itself” (Giannetti and Leach, p. 2). The scene ends with a wide shot of the group eating and enjoying each others’ company, accompanied by a music sting. The use of high key light during the scene implies an overall sense of “security, virtue, truth, and joy” (Giannetti and Leach p.76) among the family. By using these techniques, Cholodenko creates a plausible world that exhibits the worries and triumphs of a working unconventional American family, and that the Allgoods are indeed able to survive as a family without the inclusion of a dominant male figure.

On a more personal note outside of this brief film analysis, I really enjoyed The Kids Are All Right. I’ve seen it far to many times in order to write this peice to want to subject myself to the film again any time soon, but I really do recommend it. I’m not going to spoil the movie for you, if you haven’t already seen it, but it’s genuinely well-written and really funny in a smart and sometimes dark way. The second act provides a huge twist (which I’m personally on the fence about), but that doesn’t stop The Kids Are All Right from being a quality film of 2010.

What is Authorship?

“What is authorship?” I’ve been mulling over this question for a while. It’s both a very broad and brilliant question. A good, solid, question. One that, perhaps, more journalists (if not all) should mull over at some point in their career.

In my final year at J-school, one of our assigned text books was The Elements of Journalism, which discussed ethical journalism and touched on the question of journalistic authorship. Right off the bat in the first chapter authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write, “The news media serve as a watchdog, push people beyond complacency, and offer a voice to the forgotten.” This, and quotes similar to, often make me reflect on my own journey as a student of journalism.

When I first applied to Humber for its journalism program, I didn’t really know what I wanted out of it. I’m a naturally creative person; my passion lies in creative fiction writing. Short stories. Novels. Screenplays. Poetry. I didn’t want to write the news. I didn’t even pay attention to current events (I still don’t, really – aside from the Yahoo.ca home page news feed).

In the class that this textbook was assigned, my classmates and I were encouraged to engage in online discussions about various chapters, TED talks, or news articles. Our final class discussion revolved around the influences we as individuals had as introverts, extroverts, and omniverts in the field of journalism. Writing as an introvert, I stated that while introversion can typically lend itself to the benefit of more acute observation skills than more extroverted people, I felt marred by a sense of social anxiety, which shot down any self confidence as a competent journlist. The interview process makes me almost physically ill. I become petrified at the thought of cold calling. However, even though I tend to fumble and apologize (sometimes more than once) over stupid things I ask of or say to interviewees, I’ve been told I have a disarming quality that puts most people at ease.

Maybe, because I am so self depreciating and awkward.

I’m reminded of a videocast hosted by journalist Jon Ronson. In an interview with author Susan Cain in regards to her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts, she tells Ronson, “I think for any trait of human nature … [being an introvert] …  it has its pros and it has its cons. For too long we’ve only looked at introversion through its disadvantages, and we’ve only looked at extroversion through its advantages.”

The interview (and subsequent class discussion) has remained with me to this day. I’ve always felt at a disadvantage being an introvert. But according to Cain, many great ideas have come from introverts. Steve Wozniak, whom Cain says is a “self-identified introvert”, created Apple – which has had such a drastic and positive influence on the world of  technology. In conjunction with this example, Cain says earlier in the interview, “Solitude is such a crucial ingredient of creativity, and we’re losing sight of solitude.”

Perhaps then, Cain’s suggestion, linked with her idea that introversion holds just as strong traits as extroversion, circles back to the question of what authorship is to me.

In chapter one of our text book, Kovach and Rosenstiel state, “People are simply more complex than the categories and stereotypes we create for them.” I couldn’t agree with this more. While I’m awkward and suffer from social anxiety issues, as an introvert I’m pretty observant, and I like to think I’m fairly decent at the role of “active listener”. As a journalist, it’s important to me for my article to have a voice of its own, carried by the words of those who I interview: their views, experiences, hopes, fears, and accomplishments related to the story. For me, it’s all based upon a two-way genuine conversation.

In both first and second year, I used to rely far too heavily on pre-written questions, which often led to missed wide openings for additional inquires or interviewees having to once again answer an earlier question, to their chagrin. Often times in my final year, I’ve thought about a general idea of questions I’d like to ask, and head into the interview without any expectation or clear direction. As crazy as a tactic as it sounds, it’s helped encourage a more natural flow in conversation.

On a more personal note, I ultimately wish to get into arts and entertainment magazine writing. It’s a goal of mine to head a resurgence of the old dime pulps of yesteryear in order to provide up-and-coming genre writers a venue for their otherwise lost voices in the oversaturated world of published fiction.

Dave Alexander, current Editor in Chief of Rue Morgue Magazine, says of authorship in the industry, “Arts and entertainment writing isn’t just about arts and entertainment, you should be entertaining yourself. So that goes directly into authorship and having a voice, and Rue Morgue is known for having a voice.” He goes on to say there are other publications that write about similar content, but are afraid to have a strong opinion – afraid to “piss people off”. Alexander continues, “We’re here to represent the readers, not to represent movie companies … that’s why people like us.”

Although freelance journalist Sarah Nicole Prickett is very much an introvert, she has made her career out of “having a voice” via  the Twitterverse. Last June, Prickett sat down to interview Oscar-winning writer/producer Aaron Sorkin regarding his latest television incarnation, The Newsroom. Right off the bat, Prickett and Sorkin got off on the wrong foot due to a simple misunderstanding, which resulted in Sorkin flat out insulting Prickett’s competence as an online writer.

Prickett held a cool resolve and finished the interview, although the confrontation set her nerves totally on edge. She wrote about her experience for The Globe and Mail’s website.

To some degree, I can relate with Prickett’s experience (sans hipster ego). When I read about her interview with Sorkin, the article gave me a kind revelation, that I’m not the only journalist faced with the harrowing issues that more introverted individuals have to struggle with.

So then, what does authorship mean to me as an introvert? To be genuine. To tell a story as honest and heartfelt as I can. To represent my ideologies and to represent those people in my stories to the best of my ability. And I feel that I have at least attempted that as best that I can.

In this new revelation, perhaps then I’m not as horrible as a journalist as I think, for, “In the end, everyone in the journalistic process has a role to play in the journey toward truth.” (p. 109, Kovach & Rosenstiel) …Even if I am too scared to pick up a telephone.

grumblegrumble