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Close-Up with Lisa Cholodenko

 

Cholodenko's film education began with a summer immersion program at Stanford in 1990. She served as an apprentice editor on feature films, including John Singleton's 1991 breakthrough "Boyz N the Hood" before enrolling in Columbia's M.F.A. program in 1992. Early acclaim came with an audience award at the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival for her short "Dinner Party," followed the next year with the Sundance Film Festival's Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for her debut feature "High Art."

 

“‘The Kids Are All Right’ has the feel of real life: complications, joys, disappointments, neuroses, intimacies.”
--Annette Bening

After making the latter film, one set within a New York photographer's decadent entourage, and 2002's "Laurel Canyon," set in a Los Angeles rock 'n' roll milieu, movies that were well received, but limited in their appeal by their subject matter, Cholodenko sought to broaden her audience with "The Kids Are All Right."

"I wanted to move beyond where I'd been, which is more of an upscale, specialized kind of film. I really wanted to stretch beyond that and try to take these ideas I was having and find a more kind of mainstream way to express them," she says.

She found the perfect collaborator in Blumberg, whose credits include Edward Norton's 2000 romantic comedy "Keeping the Faith" and the 2004 teen comedy "The Girl Next Door."

"Stuart had much more experience working in the studio system and writing comedies on a more broad scale," she says. "We thought it would be interesting if he could figure out how to merge our sensibilities.

"There were close to five years of on and off writing this film, but we cracked our code. That was really the place I came from, just taking this idea of this two-mom household with these teenage kids, which in my mind was a pretty normal kind of family, a family that was part of the mosaic of American families."

The end result of those years of writing is a story that's dense, multilayered, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking.

The film, Cholodenko's third feature as a writer/director, is not autobiographical, she insists, even though, like the couple in the film, she and her partner, musician Wendy Melvoin, became parents through sperm donation to a son, Calder, now five. Motherhood was still in her future when she began writing the story of a couple whose lives are upended when the teenage children seek out their donor father.

"Lisa thought about this for a long time," Annette Bening (B.A., '80) observed during a promotional visit to San Francisco shortly before the film's release. "That's so important for me, the years and years and years it took to find these little moments, these little details."

Cholodenko is currently developing a new series for HBO, and she is attached to direct an adaptation of Tom Perrotta's novel "The Abstinence Teacher." For now, she's still basking in the glow of "The Kids Are All Right." In addition to all the honors, the film has earned nearly $30 million worldwide.

"I'm proud. I'm really excited," she says of her biggest success to date. "For me, it means I did my job. I was able to take this family and do what I set out to do, which was go beyond the politics of the whole thing and dig really deep into these characters and show what's universal about families."

 

Committing to a film is a lot like getting married. Find out why at www.tinyurl.com/cholodenko

 

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