by Meredith O’Brien
*Warning: Mild spoilers ahead from The Kids Are All Right.*
When my husband and I left the theater at the end of The Kids Are All Right  we were in agreement: The whole point of the film was that a family headed by two women isn’t, fundamentally, all that much different from a family headed by a man and a woman.
The film’s fictional couple, Nic and Jules (played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) -- who’d been together for quite some time and who’ve raised two children, a 15-year-old boy and an 18-year-old girl about to go to college – found that the non-stop demands of the domestic life of child-rearing and pressure from careers can oftentimes get in the way of your relationship, obscure and/or distort your view of your romantic partner.
This couple, like many, had grown to assume very specific roles in their family. Nic was the enforcer, the breadwinner. She made sure that her kids did what they were supposed to, whether it be their homework or writing thank you notes. Nic, an ob/gyn, had very high standards and a tough persona that initially came off as cold, but as the film progressed, Nic demonstrated that she had a soft inner core which’d melt when she heard the heartfelt strains of Joni Mitchell, whose albums Nic used to spend hours listening and crying to, in the days before she was responsible for making enough money to support a family of four.
Her partner, Jules, once wanted to be an architect, but instead wound up trying her hand at different disciplines over the years – as the film began she was trying to get a landscape architecture business off the ground -- that’s when she wasn’t being an at-home mom raising the couple’s two children. Jules was the soft one, the fun one who didn’t make the kids write those thank you notes, who just wanted to be laid back about everything.
Hence the conflict.
Nic wasn’t always the enforcer, but, when she and Jules created a family, someone had to play that role, and when she did, something in her relationship with Jules shifted over time. Because they had kids. Because when you raise children things have to change. Rearing those beloved children – very much wanted by this couple who went to the trouble of obtaining sperm donations from the same donor so they were each able to experience pregnancy and childbirth – oftentimes the cherubs can come in between the loving couple. It’s the same story with every couple that’s been together for a long time and raises a family.
The only differences between the couple in The Kids are All Right and, say, me and my husband of 17+ years, is that they’re gay, they used donor sperm and they both gave birth. The manner in which they conceived their children led to the biggest plot line in the film: Nic and Jules’ children sought out their sperm donor/bio dad. But if my husband and I had to use donor sperm to conceive our children, we too could’ve experienced what this couple experienced, the jarring introduction of a new person into our family that could send it wildly off-balance. If a male-female couple adopted children and those children wanted to seek out their biological parents, or if a couple used donor eggs and the child wanted to locate the egg donor, it could’ve all turned out similarly to the way it played out in the movie.
The point is that Nic and Jules could’ve been any other yuppie couple which copes with obstacles and difficulties, experiences fierce love, self-doubt and disappointment, and grapples with unmet desires. Nic and Jules’ rather vanilla “normalcy” was evident in scene after scene of messy suburban domesticity as they watched dumb TV shows on the sofa or experienced parental/kid awkwardness at the dinner table.
This feeling that they’re-just-like-any-other-white-collar-suburban-couple was, for me, put into stark relief by the fact that my husband and I went to see the film hours after a federal judge -- appointed by President Reagan -- overturned Proposition 8 , a California law which prohibited the likes of Nic and Jules from getting married. In his ruling, Judge Vaughn Walker  wrote: “Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”
While watching this Bening-Moore film, I felt as though I was observing some of the similar challenges facing my marriage to my husband being played out on the silver screen, witnessing the inevitable scars child-rearing, and life in general, can cause to a relationship, regardless of the fact that the couple was comprised of two women. As we exited, I just kept thinking, “The kids are all right. Indeed.”