“It happens”

"The Kids Are All Right"
Written by Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko,
directed by Cholodenko.

A lady married to another lady has a swing with a guy. The guy happens to be a sperm donor whose “goods” both ladies used way back to get pregnant. The key word here is “happens.”

The lightness and the speed of the story, its charming, California light bathed characters are deliciously vulnerable, vaguely self aware of their shortcomings yet unable to successfully conquer them, in short they are us, seen through the emphatic writing and directing lenses.

The character work done by the creators and the actors is of such a caliber that it is not the externality of the persons on the screen (for example their sex orientation) that drives their development. Rather it is the characters’ inner psychological struggles with their own growth or the lack of it (which we all can relate to) that makes the heart of this storytelling.

Strangely enough (or not, since what follows is a classic recipe for good writing) this universal dimension is achieved largely because the story told is the story lived: the co-writer and the co-writer/director explore their own issues and experiences in the script.

The anecdotical devise of the marital cheat “happens” to involve the guy who eighteen years earlier or so anonymously donated sperm and who now, tracked down by the resulting kids, meets the mothers and goes nuts over one of them. She does too. However the fact that he is the father of her kid is of secondary importance. What’s most pressing is their mutual inner void and vulnerability, coupled with physical attraction. That’s at least what I saw on the screen and what I heard as the explanations for this plot maneuver given by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg at the Creative Screenwriting Podcast conducted by Jeff Goldsmith.

The way the filmmakers treat the reasons for the fling’s attraction is the key to the tone of the story. The woman sees a man. The fact that he is the (anonymous) sperm donor/the father of her child does not trigger any “mystery of the DNA”, "oh God, he is the father of my child" fascination. Such approach could have possibly resulted in a take on the story bordering on philosophical ruminations - still potentially remaining a comedy. And it would not have to be pretentious: image what Woody Allen or Charlie Kaufman would do with such a concept.

The Cholodenko/Blumberg take however purposely keeps the events and the motivations of the characters south of “profound”. The characters struggles with their overwhelming weaknesses are enough to fuel a satisfying narrative and keep us glued to the screen. After all, in our daily lives we first encounter our own character limitations and only then rarely (if ever) become aware of the underlying metaphysical or evolutionary dimensions of our existence.

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