Editors' Note: Featured from CNN to Cosmo for her expertise in bisexuality and LGBT rights, guest blogger Amy Andre is the Executive Director of San Francisco Pride and co-author of Bisexual Health. With a master's degree in sexuality studies, she has written dozens of articles and essays about pop culture, bisexual identity, and movies.
When I saw The Kids Are All Right, I lamented the fact that the only character who could be interpreted as bisexual (Julianne Moore's Jules, who is married to a woman and has an affair with a man) is portrayed as a bi stereotype: a cheater. She's a near home-wrecker and ultimately the only one among the movie's trio of adults behaving badly who has to atone (in the form of a sappy apology to her homo-nuclear family).
But I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, the bisexual characters in director Lisa Cholodenko's films are inappropriately sexually voracious (a la Frances McDormand in Laurel Canyon pursuing her son's girlfriend) and/or cheating (both Radha Mitchell and Ally Sheedy in High Art) and/or dead from an overdose (again, Ally Sheedy in High Art). It's sad that a lesbian director's previously best-known work is about a bisexual who cheats on her girlfriend and then dies. I'd rather see someone make a movie about a bisexual who lives with integrity - and lives.
It's ironic, then, that it took a straight man to show me just that. Steve Carell's turn as bisexual Barry in Dinner for Schmucks was more than just comic genius. It was a study in a man's clueless devotion to a woman's orgasm and another man's happiness. In the film, Carell's character is in love with his ex-wife - and, in my opinion, with his new best friend (played by Paul Rudd).
I saw the movie only by chance. My partner wanted to see it because she thought it looked hilarious. As a filmmaker herself, she has good taste, so I tagged along. We were both pleasantly shocked by its poignancy, feminist sex-positivity, and, yes, queerness.
The plot centers around Barry, a hapless cuckold who works at the IRS, where his boss, Therman, is the man who stole his wife. In a bizarre scene, Therman tries to get Barry to give him permission to "eat his pudding" in exchange for doing a favor for Barry's new friend/ paramour Tim. Barry resists, and later we find out that "pudding" is not a snack in the IRS kitchen but actually "Pudding", an affectionate nickname that Barry gave his ex-wife and which Therman continues to use to refer to her.
Barry refuses to give Therman permission to eat Pudding. But Pudding's sexual pleasure is the root of the conflict between Therman and Barry. At the titular Dinner, Therman reveals that Pudding left Barry for him because Barry couldn't find her clitoris. As the dinner guests roar with laughter, Barry innocently and woefully explains that he thought she might have "left it in her purse." Cue more laughter. But Carell plays the part of this socially awkward, lonely man so skillfully and empathetically that I felt sorry for him and didn't have to suspend my disbelief to buy that someone might not know where a clitoris is - or even what it is.
But Therman does know where it is, and wants to eat that Pudding. With Tim increasingly desperate for Barry's help in locating Tim's runaway bride-to-be, and Therman being the only one who might know where she ran to, Barry makes the ultimate sacrifice for Tim and tells Therman, "you can eat my Pudding."
Sacrifice is love. And love is a sacrifice. Barry gives up the girl, to help the boy get the his own girl. What a bisexual trooper! Barry and Tim never have sex - although they are invited to have group sex with bisexual artist Kieran and his two female lovers, also bisexual - but their devotion to each other and to the women in their lives is a bisexual love story if I've ever seen one. In the end, Barry even goes on Tim's honeymoon, hiding under the bed while Tim and his bride consummate (or, in Barry's words, "curate") their marriage. Barry is once again the cuckold (after all, his love object is having sex with someone else), but this time, there's a spirit of compersion, too.