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DVD Talk Chats with Lisa Cholodenko

DVD Talk Chats with Lisa Cholodenko

By Jack Giroux

For some time now, director Lisa Cholodenko has been one of those indie darling filmmakers. To clarify, a director whose work is critically claimed and admired by plenty, but not a whole lot of people actually see their work. While High Art and Laurel Canyon are excellent films, they didn't exactly making splashes at the box-office. This wasn't the case with her latest film, The Kids Are All Right. It struck a perfect art and commerce cord, and has ended up being (so far) the only film out of Sundance this year to make a nice, sizable profit.

I didn't have a whole lot of time with Cholodenko, so I couldn't discuss the fact she's made the only film this year that is a genuine Sundance hit. But I did discuss what the film is saying about male role models, a particular theme that is present in her work, and one of the main characters, Paul. This is a very spoiler filled interview, so I suggest only reading it if you've seen the film.

The Kids Are All Right are now on DVD and Blu-Ray.

DVD Talk: Do you consider Paul to be self-satisfied?

Lisa Cholodenko: You know, in the way that any kind of narcissistic person is. There's parts of themselves that are and parts to that type of character that hates himself (laughs).

DVD Talk: You think he's narcissistic?

Lisa Cholodenko: I wouldn't say that character was designed to be wholly narcissistic, but I think that he's a little self-involved to the extent that he misses big clues that he probably should be looking at.

DVD Talk: Having that great life that he seems to have, is it wrong for him to be happy with himself?

Lisa Cholodenko: Not at all. I don't have a critique of it. I just think self-satisfied people ignore certain signs about other people. I like that he has a cool life and parts of him that are totally attractive and awesome. I just thought that he was a more interesting character with those shadings and those flaws.

DVD Talk: Whether or not he should actually be involved with the kids is left a bit open. Did you want that aspect to be ambiguous?

Lisa Cholodenko: I did want it to be ambiguous at the end. It's a consensual thing. If you and those kids decide you want to have a relationship down the road, more power to you. There are certain things that need to be observed and respect, in terms of boundaries and other people's relationships. I felt like the thing with the character that we were really interested in was how he comes to learn about looking at the bigger picture before he jumps in with his own desires and wants.

DVD Talk: I took away that it male models are important. Laser doesn't get rid of that friend of his until Paul gives him advice to.

Lisa Cholodenko: Right. I definitely wanted to raise the whole thing as a complex issue, you know. The film opens up with Laser watching his knucklehead friend and his dad wrestling, and he's thinking about what it would be like to have a Dad. He's thinking that maybe he's missing out on having a Dad. When Paul comes along there's something special there for him.

DVD Talk: When Paul tells Tanya he wants to be with something he can have a family, do you think he's being sincere and honest in that scene?

Lisa Cholodenko: I think it is like all those other aspects of that character. He's like a not integrated type of person. There's a part of him that feels that way with him seeing that family he wants to be a part of and seeing what family life is like, and he wants some of that. The question becomes: Is that character really equipped to follow through and be able to do that? I wanted to say to the audience he thinks he wants that, but maybe he needs to go through more shit before he figures out of he can do that or not.

DVD Talk: Was it mean of him to tell Tanya that?

Lisa Cholodenko: I want the audience to think in that moment, "God, you're such a bonehead. Why are you chasing the lesbian, who's married with grown children, and not this foxy woman who's in love with you?" To me, that was symbolic that maybe he's not ready. He's throwing away options more appropriate for him.

DVD Talk: Despite that boneheadedness, you still feel bad for him in that last scene.

Lisa Cholodenko: You do. I didn't mean for it to not be said. Here's this guy who made a bad choice, and so did somebody else, Jules. This is how it ended up, and it's a bummer. I wanted to show that that might be the final straw. From that point on, maybe he grows up and thinks a bit more before he does certain things.

DVD Talk: In that final scene, do you think it was mean of Joni to say to Paul she wished he was better? It's a pretty terrible thing to say.

Lisa Cholodenko: No, I don't think it's mean. He did something that she felt was a total betrayal. You know, he got in the way of her parents' relationship. She was probably saying it in that very 18-year-old way, which was, "God, you didn't even have a blemish on your record and you were just a part of my imagination. Now, here you are as someone with these human flaws. I wish you were better and perfect!" (laughs).

DVD Talk: And he does start off as a very fantasy-esque character. He seems perfect in the opening scene, but his final scene has all his flaws.

Lisa Cholodenko: We always thought it was a really interesting arc for this character. He bottoms out, and in a good way. It's not a knucklehead bottoming out, you know. Maybe he comes out of this as a more mature person.

DVD Talk: One contrast that is explored in your work frequently is having a free-spirited character versus a more uptight one. What is it about that idea or type of relationship that you're interested in?

Lisa Cholodenko: I think it's arc typical. I'm certain it comes from something within me. I think we all have that tension of a part of us wanting to be irresponsible and experiment, while the other part of us just wants to be straight and narrow. I like exploring that tension, and I think that's common.

DVD Talk: Would you say you're usually more sympathetic to the free-spirit character?

Lisa Cholodenko: To the free-spirit? (pause) Yeah, maybe I am. I think it's a braver way to be in the world, but it has its hazards. I'm probably somewhere between Jules and Nic. I work hard, have a family, and try to do things the right way and treat people the right way. Growing up and going through my thirties, I definitely fell from grace more than once.

DVD Talk: A lot of people always refer to the film as being a marriage drama, and it is, but I'd say it's just as much a coming-of-age film. Did you write it with that in mind?

Lisa Cholodenko: When we had to stick it in a category it became very difficult, because we saw the coming-of-tale in it, the marriage drama, and as well as the family drama. I think we chose not to get too rigid with that categorization and just let the story unfold and hope that it wasn't too messy that people couldn't explore all these different aspects of it.

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