Oscar Glory For Indie Movie, 'The Kids Are All Right'? The Academy Awards take place in Hollywood this weekend. In the running for the coveted Oscar for Best Picture this year is the indie film, "The Kids are All Right". It's also been nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Host Michel Martin speaks with the movie's co-writer and director, Lisa Cholodenko about the film and its chances of winning.

Oscar Glory For Indie Movie, 'The Kids Are All Right'?

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I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Lisa Cholodenko has a lot riding on the upcoming Academy Awards. The film she directed and co-wrote, "The Kids Are All Right," is up for four Oscars including best picture and best original screenplay.

Now, even if you didn't see it, you might remember the buzz from the film during its run last summer. It focuses on a lesbian couple who are suddenly challenged when their children develop an interest in getting to know the sperm donor who helped create them. Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo were also nominated for their roles in the film.

(Soundbite of film, "The Kids Are All Right")

Ms. ANNETTE BENING (Actor): (As Nic) Joni, did you tell Paul about your graduation speech?

Mr. MARK RUFFALO (Actor): (As Paul) Oh no, she didn't tell me.

Ms. BENING: You know, I bet Paul would like to hear it.

Ms. MIA WASIKOWSKA (Actor): (As Joni) No, he's not. I'm sure he wouldn't.

Ms. BENING: Sweetie, don't be embarrassed.

Ms. WASIKOWSKA: Mom, I'm not embarrassed. Jesus, give it a rest.

MARTIN: That was Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo and the young Mia Wasikowska.

Now, here's Annette Bening as herself talking about the Lisa Cholodenko film.

Ms. BENING: The movie's not sentimental and I love that. It's not saccharine. It's not a sugar-coated version of the American family. I think there will be a lot of people who can find it funny or they think, oh yeah, I've had that moment with my kids.

MARTIN: And director and writer Lisa Cholodenko joins us now to talk about her film and whatever else is on her mind.

Thank you so much for joining us and congratulations on all the nominations and other accolades.

Ms. LISA CHOLODENKO (Director and Writer, "The Kids Are All Right"): Oh, thanks. Happy to be here.

MARTIN: Now, I wanted to ask, for those who may not have seen the film originally last summer, but who certainly heard about it, how this story came to you.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Oh God. It was a long process. You know, I think the first sort of glint came on the heels of my partner and I talking about starting a family and how were we going to do that. And did we want to do that with somebody that we knew and whatnot. And finally we decided, you know, I think it's better for us to do it with an anonymous sperm donor. So that was a big choice and we got over that hurdle.

And then the next hurdle was, well, okay, we're going to go that way, now we have to select who that person's going to be. And when we were kind of, you know, reaching a conclusion about that, choosing somebody, it was time for me to go back to work and I sat down and said, okay, well, now I've got to write something. It's, you know, I need to come up with a new film. And don't censor yourself, just sit down and see what comes out. And the first kind of blush of this story came out - first 10, 15 pages of, you know, the family and the kind of blueprint for the plot and what was going to happen.

MARTIN: One of the things that I think a lot of people have noticed and appreciated about the film is that there are just these moments of recognition for anybody who's been a kid, raising kids. I'll just play another short clip from the film. This is a dinner table scene and people can figure out what's going on here. Here it is.

(Soundbite of film, "The Kids Are All Right")

Ms. JULIANNE MOORE (Actor): (As Jules) What do you get from your relationship with Clay?

Mr. JOSH HUTCHERSON (Actor): (As Laser) What do you mean get?

Ms. BENING: We just feel like he's a little untended.

Ms. MOORE: Do you think he's the kind of person who's going to help you grow?

Ms. BENING: Hey, did you get started on those thank you notes?

Ms. WASIKOWSKA: Not yet, but I will.

Ms. BENING: Okay. I just think it's better to knock'em out when it's fresh.

Ms. WASIKOWSKA: Yeah. I'll do them tonight.

Ms. BENING: I mean, you don't want us to start with an apology.

Ms. WASIKOWSKA: Mom, I know.

Ms. MOORE: It's okay, honey, she got it. Let it go.

Ms. BENING: Okay. I'll let it go. If it was up to you, our kids wouldn't even write thank you notes. You know, they'd just send out good vibes.

Ms. MOORE: That's not nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know, you can sort of - a lot of us have been there, you know. Those dynamics, the two partners kind of...


MARTIN: ...going at it in a nice way. You wanted to say something about that?


MARTIN: Go ahead.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: It's nice to hear you laugh. I mean, I think about just, yeah, relationships, you know. It's sort of this rapid cycling of, you know, tension and displeasure with, you know, love and affection. It's kind of a strange cocktail.

MARTIN: Well, there's also the normalness of it. And I did want to ask if that was important to you. Was that an intention or a happy byproduct to create this family, a same gender family, but many people can see themselves in? Was that something that was very important as a kind of a top line of the project or did it just happen that way?

Ms. CHOLODENKO: You know, it's interesting to have it framed that way, because in a sense, it was both. I mean, we were very clear, Stuart Blumberg, my co-writer and myself, that, you know, we didn't want anything that was pandering or politically correct or sort of sanctimonious about this family. Not only did we not want that in a kind of aesthetic way for ourselves, because those aren't the kind of films that we typically relate to, but we also felt like, personally, what we would enjoy about this film and what we could identify was that it wasn't so much the discussion of the issues or gay people being underdogs or, you know, the right to marry or any of that stuff that gay people talk about in their day-to-day lives. It's a gay family really has the same issues and the same fabric and the same qualities of lifestyle and conversation as a straight family. And that's - that was interesting to us.

And so, you know, the byproduct of our own aesthetic sensibility was that we felt the power of the film could be that anything really politically correct was just sort of buried within. It was more of, you know, what was not said, and that was really the power of it.

MARTIN: One of the other things that I think a lot of people noticed is the high-powered cast - of course, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore - but also depicting women who, in this country and culture, are considered middle-aged.


MARTIN: But, number one, they're the stars of the film. Number two, they're portrayed as, you know, sexy. You know, they're not surgically enhanced. You can see the, you know, the wrinkles. You can see the normal signs of aging, but they're still seen as sexy and vibrant. And I was curious if that was something that was important to you, also.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Yeah. It was hugely important, and it became very kind of challenging to be true to that instinct in the sense that when we wrote it, I felt like this is the plot. The plot is dictated by the fact that here's this family. This is a long-term couple, and their eldest child is turning 18, going to college and is on the brink of, you know, a lot of things, but obviously, bringing this sperm donor into the fold. And then I thought, okay, well, I'm not going to go below a certain age in casting this. These actors have to be mid-40s, early 50s, or else it's not going to feel credible. It's not going to feel real.

And so that was a mandate. And then on top of that, you know, I said, well, I want this film to have commercial potential. I think it can. I really need to try to cast it with top-level actors. And then I started looking at, you know, the hit list of women in that age group that I felt, you know, could help that and would be great for the roles and all sorts of variables I had to ask myself. And that list became very small. So it was, you know, just became more and more narrow, which in one sense was good, because it made my choices clearer, but a hair disheartening because my options were so few. So that begs a whole other question.

MARTIN: Well, there is that question, actually, I was going to beg, actually, at this point. There was a piece in the Los Angeles Times in December that suggested there might be a change afoot for actresses who are over 40, as your two stars are, and the storylines that work for such actresses. And, you know, it's funny because when, you know, there's a movie like yours that's successful, people say oh, wow, there's a change afoot just like a couple of years ago, when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington both won Academy Awards as best actor and best actress in the same year. People say, oh, there's a change afoot. This year, no people of color nominated in major categories for anything.


MARTIN: So I do want to ask whether - do you think that there might be a change afoot, your efforts aside?

Ms. CHOLODENKO: You know, I keep it's so odd answering these questions, and I know that I'm sure you have the same difficulty. Like, on the one hand, you're like yeah, okay. There's a change afoot. I mean, that's a development relatively speaking, right - the Halle Berry, Denzel thing. Or I get asked the question a lot like, oh, well, now that Kathryn Bigelow won this award last year, you know, now we see this whole sea change in blah, blah, blah with women being nominated for directing - you know, in the directing category and best picture and whatnot. So ultimately, I think there's...


Ms. CHOLODENKO: ...something positive in it, but it's just this kind of change is, you know, it's slow and it's complicated. It's a really multifaceted...


Ms. CHOLODENKO: ...response to sort of a weird, complicated question.

MARTIN: But what about the fact that you - you're nominated for an Academy Award as co-writer of the film. You directed the film. The film's nominated for best picture, but you don't get nominated for best director. What's up with that?

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Well, I'd love to hear your perspective.

(Soundbite of laughter)


(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Your world, not mine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHOLODENKO: I don't know. I don't know. I mean, it feels a little bit inappropriate for me to comment on it, you know. I look at the other films and I see things in those films that I don't see in my own. So, you know, it would be easy to be self-disparaging and say oh, well, you know, I didn't blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and that's the sign of a great director.

But if I'm being, you know, sort of have my ego in a healthy check, I would say, you know, there's something unfortunate about not being recognized for the accomplishment of handpicking these, you know, spot-on actors to play these roles, doing a film in 23 days for very little money and getting these kind of Oscar-caliber performances and then having a script that's also been nominated in honored, it's hard to say: Well, where's the director in that equation?

So I think as other people have commented on it, you know, it's a style of directing that I think is a little more invisible. It doesn't draw attention to myself. It really lets the script and the actors do their job, and it doesn't have busy, flashy camerawork, partly because we couldn't afford it and partly because it isn't my style to be intrusive that way. And so, you know, maybe that's not in vogue right now.

MARTIN: Well, I understand that, as a nominee, it's awkward and delicate to discuss, you know, the other nominations and that can be very tricky, particularly right, you know, now in the run-up to the awards. And I do understand, at least I - from what I read. But, there are those who suggest that - and not to take anything away from Kathryn Bigelow's achievement last year when she won for "The Hurt Locker." But there are those who say, well, the issue is she's a female director, but she's directing a story with men at the center...


MARTIN: ...in a story that is the kind of the story that men like.


MARTIN: War movie, men at the center of it. The movie-going audience for so many years now has been primarily younger, you know, men who like a lot of special effects. And that women, if they're telling stories with a woman at the center or told in a quieter way - character-driven, et cetera - just don't get the kind of recognition. And I did feel that I wanted to ask your opinion about that, if that might be true.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: You know, it's worth the inquiry. I think they're really interesting, complicated questions. At the base of it, my gut instinct tells me that there's a kind of fundamental misogyny in the culture. There just is. You know, there's just a weird anxiety around women.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHOLODENKO: That I think that it's just easier to uphold, like, male heroes and men things. And that's just kind of how it is. I think we're getting better, but I think it's just deeply rooted and it's based on nothing but an instinct. Because when you talk about the Kathryn Bigelow film, I mean, I think something that was tremendous was that she really did get into male psychology and sort of the male experience in such an authentic way. I was really impressed by it. But had that film been anything other than that kind of film, you know, I'm dubious whether she would've gotten the accolades that she got, even though I think she's a wonderful and tremendous director.

MARTIN: Are you looking forward to the Academy Awards despite that?

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Oh, my God. Yeah. What an honor. What - I mean, it's an incredible honor to, I mean, just even to have the nominations is really beyond where I could have ever imagined. You know, we toiled with this script for a long time, and believe you me, there were many weeks and months and even years that went by. We spent almost five years on it, where I thought, God, this is just in vain. You know, what am I doing? Is this ever even going to see the light of day? So to have it be, you know, out, received well and made some money and awarded and whatnot and even being on the radio with you, it's like, you know, it's just a thrill. It's a real validation.

MARTIN: Lisa Cholodenko, is the Academy Award-nominated co-writer of the film "The Kids Are All Right," which is also up for best picture. She also directed the film, and it's now out on DVD. And she was kind enough to join us from NPR West.

Thank you so much for joining us, and congratulations once again.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Oh, thanks so much.

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