I spent the afternoon of Christmas Eve wrapping presents and watching The Kids Are All Right, and the reaction that Cholodenko probably didn’t intend for me to have was that it made me feel sorry for Annette Bening’s character.
Granted, she’s not an easy woman to live with. She’s anal-retentive, control-freakish, and critical to an extent that often isn’t called for. But, you know…she’s not a bad person, and it left me feeling sort of queasy to see her portrayed as the Main Family Villain. For example, there’s the scene with the Special Lavender Bath Salts. Here we see that Nic is well aware she’s not such an easy woman to live with, and she wants her long-suffering partner Jules to know that her patience is appreciated. That ought to count for something, in my opinion. So she sets up a nice bath for Jules and follows up with a foot massage, which Jules really, really enjoys…until Nic remembers…she forgot the lavender bath salts! So she leaves the tubside, over Jules’s objections, to go find the lavender bath salts. Then she’s gone for a long time, and Jules finally gets out, puts on a towel, and goes downstairs…to find Nic on the phone. Did I mention that Nic is a doctor (apparently a gynecologist)? And that she’s on the phone with a patient, who is pregnant and might be having contractions? The implication is supposed to be that Nic is such a neglectful spouse that we shouldn’t be surprised when Jules cheats on her, but there could be better ways to show that Nic is inattentive to Jules’s emotional needs than to show her on the phone with a patient. The thing is, Nic is trying to be a good mom who raises smart kids who write thank-you notes and don’t drive drunk, AND a good spouse who shows her partner some appreciation, AND a good doctor to patients whose medical needs don’t observe a regular schedule. She has a lot of people who need her, and most of those people don’t live with her, and Jules knew that when they met. Perhaps if Jules didn’t read “subtext” into any criticism of their son (the one she birthed), and didn’t get all offended to find that her wife was sidetracked by a pregnant patient with ominous abdominal pains, then the lines of communication might be just a little healthier and a torrid affair with the family sperm donor wouldn’t be quite such an attractive option.
And then we have the drama at Paul’s house, in which Nic has made a good-faith effort to warm up to the new man in her children’s lives, and is really having a good time with him and his Joni Mitchell music…and is rewarded with the discovery of her wife’s very obvious hair in the man’s shower drain. That’ll teach her to get out of her comfort zone. There’s her prize for giving Paul a chance. There’s the result of her wife starting a new business. The irony of the scene is that Paul is the one who points out to Laser that it’s difficult enough to open your heart in this world already, so don’t make it any harder on your mom. He’s actually right about that. It’s so difficult, so risky, to open your heart, under those conditions. I can’t say I blame her for hitting that wine bottle a little harder than Jules would like.