"If some queer-radical types object to the film on political or ideological grounds, there's a sense in which they're right to do so," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "This movie definitely isn't aimed at them." Why would they object?
The reason, it appears, lies in a spoiler that's hinted at in the trailer. So if you hate those, stop reading now.
The film's marketing is clearly positioning it as a relatable universal tale, centered around two upper-income, middle-aged lesbian moms played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. For director and co-writer Lisa Cholodenko, it's also an explicit play for the mainstream — which could clearly benefit from a storyteller of her talents. (O'Hehir casually calls the film "one of the most compelling and rewarding portraits of a middle-class American marriage in cinema history, as well as one of the funniest." Um, because my hopes weren't set incredibly high already?)
The action happens, so to speak, when the couple's children track down the sperm donor that is their biological father — and apparently Julianne Moore has an affair with him. (In the trailer, this looks like chaste kissing.) With this twist, writes O'Hehir, "Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg capitulate — in some people's view — to a whole set of 'Celluloid Closet'-type homophobic stereotypes, and possibly lend aid and comfort to the right-wing view of homosexuality as a 'lifestyle choice.'" That, at least, appears to have been the complaints of some of Salon's commenters — not a famously enlightened bunch, alas, but an interesting claim nonetheless.
In other words, does every Hollywood movie involving a lesbian have to suggest she really needs cock?
As a San Francisco Bay Guardian interviewer put it to Cholodenko, "We don't see a lot of queer characters on screen, and so when we do, many want them to be perfect: the queer voice, the lesbian, the gay man. And when they step outside those boundaries, suddenly it becomes an issue, politically."
Cholodenko replied that she (also a lesbian mother) identified strongly with the film and felt that it was true to her, and also that she didn't find the boundaries between straight and gay to be so rigid. She went on,
I feel like, it's kind of an interesting intermingling of straight and gay. I felt like, if I really want this to be a mainstream film, that's good. This is really inclusive of gay and straight, and I like that. I like that personally and I like that for this film. I was much more interested in reaching out to the male population than I was concerned about alienating a sector of the lesbian population.
In other words, this was explicitly, at least in part, a capitulation to having more people identify with the story — but in a way that felt narratively true to Cholodenko, at least by her own account. If the film does succeed with "mainstream" (giant scare quotes around that one) audiences, then maybe the next time won't be such a hard sell. And it won't have to stand in as the "perfect" representation of a given group, not being the only one.