Lisa Cholodenko co-wrote and directed one of the best-reviewed films of the year, “The Kids Are All Right,” about the teenage children of a lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) who seek out their biological father, leading to upheavals and realignments. I spoke to her about developing the film from her own experience.
It was a joy to see middle-aged actresses with beautiful but real faces. Bening and Moore let us see their real faces in this film.
I adore them. They are tremendous people on and off screen. One thing that was great about the experience was that everyone had the same agenda, to bring this script to life and make sure we got it right. We spent five years developing and revising the screenplay. It was five years in the making. By the time we got it together, with very little money, they were ready to bring it forward and it was more than I ever expected, what they did with these roles.
How did the screenplay evolve?
It originally evolved from a very personal place. My girlfriend and I were deciding to have a baby with an anonymous sperm donor and it was complicated. It took us a long time to make the decision and find the right donor. I had been fully absorbed in that process and when I sat down to write a script I realized that there wasn’t much on my mind but that. I started from a place of imagining this girl turning 18, her prerogative to open that Pandora’s box and make contact with her sperm donor, what that would be like.
I have a four-year-old now. I imagined he would want to meet this person and that the donor we selected would be open to that. That was something I felt strongly I would want for him. I made a right turn there with the narrative and made the moms are more anxious about it. I sort of threw a dart at the wall and that’s where the story began.
Stuart Blumberg (the co-author), I had known before and we re-connected. It turned out he had been a sperm donor in college.
Josh’s character Laser has the keenest, most perceptive take than anyone in the family.
What are the biggest challenges for people in long-term relationships?
It’s keeping an equilibrium. It’s easy to get lost, as Jules says at the end. Boundaries get blurry and identities can get lost easily. It’s easy to take your partner for granted. Keeping boundaries and equilibrium so you can move through the whole menu of life experiences and recover and grow.
In this film and in “Laurel Canyon” you allow middle-aged people to be sexual, which you don’t see very often in movies.
We don’t see it in a way that resonates as true or interesting. What interested me about the characters in these two films is that understanding their sexual gravitas helped to understand them as people.
Who are some of your influences as a film-maker?
I was very influenced by the films of the 70’s. It was a golden era for independent-minded films being made at studios — Hal Ashby, Mike Nichols, Robert Altman, movies with a keen sense of character and psychology and were also funny, drama-comedies, taking bigger risks with character than we see now, more naturalism than we see now. Everything today is more digital and finely crafted and controlled. I really wanted this family to feel natural and lived-in and real.