By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Men are the worst. In The Kids Are All Right, a lesbian couple finds that their old anonymous sperm donor has stumbled back into their lives, which prompts one of them to tell him, "I need your observations like I need a dick in my ass!" while the other decides she'd love the observations and the appendage.
The result is the kind of trouble that could have made for a glorified sitcom, but this being a seriously made dramedy, with savvy performances by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as "Pony" and "Chicken" and Mark Ruffalo as the jazzy jizzpot, it becomes a stimulating character study, not to mention Bening's second cinematic endorsement of family this year. (See J. Hoberman's review of The Kids Are All Right here.)
(By the way, you might even see an echo of her real-life clan. In Kids, Bening's daughter screeches, "I'm 18 years old!" as she demands the right to make adult decisions for herself—shades of Bening's born daughter, Kathlyn, the 18-year-old who's defiantly living as Steve and report-edly transitioning?)
Anyway, at a Rouge Tomate luncheon for the film last week, director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko told me she never had to jump in during filming and tell Bening and Moore stuff like, "A lesbian would never do that!" "That was the amazing thing," she said. "They're just really great actors who went beyond the gender identity thing and became three-dimensional people that happened to be lesbians." (See also Ella Taylor's interview with Cholodenko here.)
In life, Cholodenko happens to have a four-year-old son, so I jokingly asked if she knows who the father is. "No!" she replied, sincerely. "It was an anonymous sperm donor. The film came about because I started posing my own personal questions like, 'What's this gonna be like in 18 years?' " This has to be one of the very rare occurrences where sperm contributed to the making of an arthouse classic.
"The couple in the film is like any other couple," the ever-game Ruffalo told me at the same event. "They're like me and my wife. I've seen it three times, and, quickly into the movie, the novelty of lesbian marriage with the teenage kids and the sperm donor dad melts away, and the audience is laughing because they're seeing their own families up there."
Is Ruffalo all right with becoming the face of seed givers for all time? "I'm gonna be the poster boy for sperm donors," he said, going along with this gambit. "But I don't know if I'm an example of the kind of sperm you want." "I'm a gay male," I cracked. "I want any sperm." "We'll let that fall flat," he generously said, smiling, as I crawled away.
"All couples must be boy-girl" is a line from the 1978 movie Grease, though John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John went beyond the gender identity thing and became three-dimensional people who happened to be heteros. In the disillusioned 1970s, Grease provided a candy-colored, escapist throwback to the far simpler 1950s, the musical allowing the Watergate/Vietnam generation to check their tortured minds at the door and just smile a lot. So it makes perfect sense that in the even more desperate Teens, we're going back to Grease's '70s view of the '50s, a double dose of nostalgia to distract from oil spills and Dow plummets.
And there's a very now twist being added; in this age of social-networking fame for every human on earth, it's being shown in a sing-along version, in which you're the star. Last week, I saw Grease Sing-a-Long, which has the lyrics, along with giddy animation effects, guiding you through the numbers, as well as a chorus of voices added to the soundtrack. (That actually made me want to sing less; it felt like the singing-along was already taken care of. But I soared nonetheless on "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" and especially "Greased Lightning.")
Didi Conn, who played the beauty-school dropout Frenchie, was there to egg the crowd on and explain that it's a movie about "your first love, your first car, your first heartbreak." Privately, I asked Conn for her first Grease memories, and she said, "The first things that come to mind are John Travolta's lips. And looking at the cleft in his chin. Then again, there were Frankie Avalon's lips, too. I was a little horny in those days!" Did she even get hot for Eve Arden? "Don't start a whole thing!" she said, laughing. All couples must be boy-girl.
At Dixon Place's HOT! Festival of Queer Performance and Culture, '50s nostalgia came with drag and interracial twists as the Tweed company redid Picnic, the simmering tale of small-town frustration, and made it into the very funny Pic-up! A Summer Romance. In this version, the pretty sister licks whipped cream off the goony sister's arm, the black drifter mounts people from behind, and he and his old buddy are much chummier than anyone in Grease (onscreen, that is).
Fourteen Blind Items and Some Rhetorical Questions
But enough with overt displays of sperm donation in small towns. Let's go for the hidden, seamy, big-city stuff, while leaving out the names, to make it extra hideous.