Tag: Gabourey Sidibe
Taglines: One guy can ruin the perfect relationship.
At 29, the most long-term relationship Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs) have ever been in is with each other, using their co-dependent friendship as an excuse not to venture out into the dating world alone. But when Paige meets nerdy Tim (Adam Brody) and starts to get serious for the first time, the nature of their friendship begins to shift. Fearing she’s being cast aside, Sasha tries to keep their relationship the same, but does growing up also mean growing apart?
Life Partners is an American comedy film directed by Susanna Fogel and co-written with Joni Lefkowitz. It is Fogel’s feature film directorial debut. The film stars Leighton Meester, Gillian Jacobs, Adam Brody, Greer Grammer, Gabourey Sidibe, and Julie White. The film premiered on April 18, 2014 at the Tribeca Film Festival in the Spotlight section. The film was released on November 6, 2014 on demand platforms, and in select theaters on December 5, 2014.
Set in Minneapolis, Minnesota, principal photography began in April 2013 and lasted 19 days. The film was primarily shot in Glendale, California and Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. Some scenes were shot at Griffith Park and at Long Beach, California during the Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride. Other scenes were also filmed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minneapolis skyline and a few Minneapolis landmarks are also shown in the film.
We’ve all had a best friend. Especially for women, this relationship is as intense as any romantic partnership we will ever have. She’s the person we share our innermost fears with, the person who drives us to the emergency room, the person we bring as our date to weddings. Particularly nowadays, when people are encouraged to take their time in committing romantically, these quasi-marital friendships can last well into our 20s if not 30s, and are a huge part of the Zeitgeist.
It’s surprising, then, how rarely these friendships are accurately portrayed in American films. In mainstream romantic comedies, we’re treated to the “comic relief sidekick” friend who is unflaggingly supportive of the movie’s protagonist (and overly interested in her love life). And we’ve seen the onscreen frenemy who will stop at nothing to sabotage her “best friend” through broad set pieces that sometimes literally involve hair-pulling. But what about that person you love more than anyone in the world…but still talk about behind her back and find yourself subtly one-upping when you’re feeling insecure?
That person you love so much that it kills you to see her making mistakes and why doesn’t she just listen to you when you tell her how to fix her life? That person who drives you so crazy with her passive-aggressive crap that when you complain about it to the guy you’re dating, he can’t help but ask why you’re still friends with her because he just doesn’t get it? It’s that friendship my cowriter Joni and I set out to study with this film, in the tradition of films like Nicole Holofcener’s Walking and Talking that are unparalleled in their realism about female friendship and its absurd amazingness.
Just as we believe there’s a dearth of honest films about female friendships, we also feel a need for films about gays and lesbians having relatable experiences in a diverse world. Joni and I identify differently (she’s gay, I’m straight) and we wanted to represent her community without focusing a narrative on “coming out” or emphasizing the politics of her sexuality in a way that would make the film niche. On the contrary, we wanted to universalize it. Not only did we want to show a platonic gay-straight friendship where neither character is romantically interested in the other, but in executing the script as a director, I strived for accessibility.
In casting, I sought actresses who were widely known and broadly appealing to play lesbians, like Leighton Meester who lends so much credibility, nuance and heart to a role that could not be further from her role on GOSSIP GIRL. As for her straight counterpart, I tried to avoid the plight of the generic romantic comedy heroine by casting Gillian Jacobs, an actress known for her quirky personality and cult comedy fanbase.
As far as my aesthetic approach to directing this film, I aimed for a combination of real and slightly elevated. I’ve always admired directors like Cameron Crowe who combine naturalistic writing and performances with a real sense of style that lends an element of wish fulfillment, fun and entertainment. With this in mind, I tried to encourage moments of spontaneity and raw emotion, while still delivering the scripted comedy and avoiding an overly improvisational or haphazard feel. I approached production design, costume and music with this same philosophy in mind, always aiming for a combination of real and slightly elevated.
With all that said, my hope with LIFE PARTNERS is to deliver a female friendship comedy that resonates and entertains, hitting that sweet spot between a “film” and a “movie” as it explores the universal theme of friendship…along with some related themes (sexuality, women at the center of their own narrative, to name two) that deserve more of a spotlight.
“Leighton especially was really fun to transform from this gossip girl to someone who was representative of the lesbian community and who wasn’t passing as a lipstick lesbian. She doesn’t have a lot of money, she is thrift shopping her stuff or is inheriting it from different people or had it since college and I think making that evident was incredibly important, so we did that. Everything she wears is from a thrift shop or borrowed – it was a beg borrow and steal kind of movie.”
“Your mid to late 20s are such a hard time to dress yourself because you don’t have the money to be the professional you want to be but you need to look professional and that’s something PAIGE has really nailed that SASHA hasn’t figured out. PAIGE is really reveling in being this young lawyer on a career path, and even in her casual wear, you see that.”
The rest of the team came together quickly but efficiently and in April 2013, the 19-day shoot began. Set in Minneapolis, LIFE PARTNERS was shot entirely on the east side of LA, primarily in Glendale and Eagle Rock.
The strong relationship between Leftowitz, Fogel and Mollick extended to their cast and crew, their relaxed professionalism creating a sense of ease and comfort for anyone on set. Fogel’s supportive and good-natured attitude as a director proved incredibly impactful. Meester elaborates, “She’s really ahead of what a lot of people are capable of at her age and especially for somebody who is directing their first feature, I’ve never seen someone be so humble and confident, creative, in tune, and collaborative.” Jacobs adds, “It’s one of the calmest sets I’ve ever been on and for a first time director, that’s really an accomplishment. Everyone seems happy to be at work every day and everything went smoothly. I’ve worked on a lot of movies this size where that is not the case and I think Susanna sets the tone, so it’s been really great.”
Even when Meester & Jacobs had an evening shoot in an unheated pool, playful shrieking and humming the Super Mario Brothers theme took the place of any potential complaining. Their immediate bond didn’t go unnoticed.
“With this the friendship connection between the girls is so important, you’re kind of just taking a gamble,” says Fogel. “You have meetings with each one and if you feel like they would like each other, you just roll the dice on that, but we’re glad they ended up really clicking and becoming friends.” Lefkowitz continues, “I’m sure by the last day they were speaking another language. On day one, everyone was a little nervous and tense but seriously, by day two, they were humping each other before every take, we were like ‘WHAT is happening?’ – we’re just so lucky we found two people with such an odd sense of humor, like Gillian would come to set in a tree costume and they would make crazy videos, they just thought the same weird things were funny and made the same weird voices when they would rehearse their scenes. They related to each other in that weird way and that’s just luck that they were both the same brand of abnormal.”
Jacobs adds, “This movie is all about our friendship and you don’t really know when you meet each other what you’re actually like and turns out she’s a freak like me, so it’s been awesome…we both realized we were goofy weirdoes early on. It’s fun to have someone like that, where you can be as weird as you want to be. The whole crew was kind of like that on this film so it was a fun, silly environment for us.”
The last day of shooting, which took place at Griffith Park, production bought a food truck for the crew and Brody brought in more cupcakes from his favorite bakery than a small independent film crew could possibly eat. It is worth noting not a cast or crew member was absent at the wrap party where karaoke was involved and shirts featuring an inside joke from set printed on the front were disseminated among the group.
Heading towards the film’s festival run, Fogel & Lefkowitz ruminate on how far they have come. “There’s so much that we reflect on and write about that comes from our friendship and how much we’ve changed over the years,” says Fogel. “We always mine our own lives and experiences for stories, but when we met we were both so different. Joni wasn’t out of the closet yet and I was a weird insecure pretentious indie rock person. We evolved into grownups together and we will continue to do that over the next few decades. Having met right after college and now being in our 30s and making this big leap to this next phase of our careers is exciting to do together.”
Directed by: Susanna Fogel
Starring: Leighton Meester, Gillian Jacobs. Adam Brody, Mark Feuerstein, Julie White, Abby Elliot, Greer Grammer, Kate McKinnon, Beth Dover, Gabourey Sidibe
Screenplay by: Susanna Fogel, Joni Lefkowitz
Production Design by: Matt Luem
Cinematography by: Brian Burgoyne
Film Editing by: Kiran Pallegadda
Costume Design by: Courtney Hoffman
Set Decoration by: Danielle Laubach
Art Direction by: Nicolas Kelley
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content.
Studio; Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: December 5, 2014
Taglines: I was 17 when my mother is dissapeared.
Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley) is 17 years old when her perfect homemaker mother, Eve (Eva Green), a beautiful, enigmatic, and haunted woman, disappears – just as Kat is discovering and relishing her newfound sexuality. Having lived for so long in a stifled, emotionally repressed household, she barely registers her mother’s absence and certainly doesn’t blame her doormat of a father, Brock (Christopher Meloni), for the loss. In fact, it’s almost a relief. But as time passes, Kat begins to come to grips with how deeply Eve’s disappearance has affected her. Returning home on a break from college, she finds herself confronted with the truth about her mother’s departure, and her own denial about the events surrounding it…
Q & A With Gregg Araki
White Bird in a Blizzard is adapted from a novel by Laura Kasischke. What made you decide to make this story into a movie?
Gregg Araki: A producer friend and collaborator of mine, Sebastien Lemercier, recommended the book which I read and fell in love with. I was instantly struck by the novel’s lyrical and poetic nature. It really haunted me and reminded me of what I had liked about Scott Heim’s novel Mysterious Skin: softness and beauty within the violence.
What was it about the book that moved you the most?
Gregg Araki: It’s difficult to put into words but you instinctively know what movies you need to make. Laura’s storytelling style is impressionistic and also very visual and cinematic so it lends itself perfectly to the filmmaking process. The feminist aspect of her viewpoint also appealed to me as I have always been heavily influenced by feminist film theory.
White Bird is the story of a young woman, Kat Connors, who is taking her first steps into her own sexuality just as her world is turned upside down by the sudden disappearance of her mother. But the novel isn’t a generic suspense thriller – it’s more measured, introspective, a beautiful and haunting portrait of a broken American family. Kat’s mother, Eve, is an archetypal suburban housewife – a woman whose place in the world has been prescribed for her by society. She dutifully manages her household but it slowly turns into a prison. Eva Green, who plays Eve, and I were both really compelled and fascinated by this tragic component of her character.
What did you change in the story to make it your own?
Gregg Araki: Adapting the novel for the screen, I started by moving the story from Ohio to Loma Linda, California, a suburb near L.A. which is similar to the one I grew up in. It’s helpful for me to have inside knowledge of a location and its atmosphere, in order to create the world of the film.
The book is divided into four distinct chapters chronicling the years between 1986 to 1989, for the film we’ve shifted a bit later to the late eighties/early nineties – a period that, culturally and especially musically, has always fascinated me. As anyone familiar with my movies knows, the music of that era which is used in the film – Depeche Mode, New Order, The Cure, Cocteau Twins, etc. – that music was a huge influence and inspiration for me as a young artist, so the film pays homage to that.
What was involved in adapting the novel?
Gregg Araki: A filmmaker has the advantage of being able to tell a story through images – and Laura’s novel was full of beautiful, cinematic imagery to start with. I always work with a storyboards so I can put the images which are playing in my head onto paper for others – the crew, the actors, etc. – to see.
It helps me make the imaginary real. The world that Laura created was rich and very vivid – the snow in Kat’s dreams, the gloomy interior of the Connors house, it was all there in the book. I always find it’s easier to work from something that exists, because the story, characters and images are already there. All you have to do is hone and sculpt them into a 90 minute format.
This is your second book adaptation, after Mysterious Skin. Both films feature a certain softness, an intentional romanticism. It’s almost as though adapting someone else’s work tames your style…
Gregg Araki: You could look at it that way I suppose. But at the same time, both films explore my usual stylistic and thematic concerns – dreams and the surreal, sexual coming of age, people who are outsiders in society, etc. For me, adapting someone else’s work usually means finding a voice that I empathize with, which really strikes a chord in me. Scott Heim and Laura are both clear examples of this.
Then, in making the book into a film, it’s about staying true to that voice while enhancing it with my own authorial vision. With a film like Kaboom or Doom Generation, which are original screenplays I wrote, those films are more like my imagination running wild, not in service of another author’s voice and point of view. Despite their seeming difference in tone and surface, the films which are my original ideas and those I adapt from other sources fit together.
The narrative structure relies heavily on Kat’s dreams. How did you work with these dreams?
Gregg Araki: The dreams Kat has of her mother lost in the snow give us an insight into the emotional bond between them as well as illuminating what is going on inside Kat’s head. My films have always been influenced by surrealism and filmmakers like David Lynch so the way Laura utilizes dreams in the book definitely appealed to me. It really gave me a pathway into the story.
White Bird In A Blizzard unfolds almost entirely from Kat’s perspective – it’s told from a very feminine point of view…
Gregg Araki: It’s not the first time I’ve made a movie centered on a female protagonist – Smiley Face (2007) and even in The Doom Generation (1995), a significant part of the action is seen through Amy Blue’s eyes. From my days in film school, I’ve always been interested in the feminist perspective which is why Laura’s sensibility is such a good fit for me.
This film also seems to take a different approach to one of your favorite subjects – adolescence.
Gregg Araki: Adolescence is a time of change and transition, where nothing is stable or certain, and teenagers live a life that is a big question mark – so naturally they make compelling dramatic subjects. However, I’m in my fifties and not particularly interested in dragging out my adolescence in my movies. Throughout all my films, my perspective of this period of life has changed significantly over the years.
In White Bird, the crazy rock ‘n’ roll side of adolescence is virtually non-existent. Instead, the film focuses on Kat’s troubled and dysfunctional family and as a result it’s much quieter and more serious. There’s a big difference between this movie and Doom Generation, made 20 years ago. While Doom is very wild and chaotic, White Bird In A Blizzard is more controlled, introspective, classical almost in structure and tone.
There are some characters, like Kat’s close friends, who seem to represent the outcasts of the world: the overweight Afro- American, the gay best friend…
Gregg Araki: In the book, Kat’s friends were two white girls. My movies have always been about outsiders, those who don’t really fit into mainstream American society. That’s why I changed these characters as I envisioned Kat and her friends as misfits who create a world unto themselves. They are perfectly content living outside of the norm, apart from the middle of the road “popular” kids, because they have each other.
You purposefully set the film in the late Eighties. How does this context impact the tragedy that befalls this family?
Gregg Araki: Women like Eve Connors grew up in the Fifties and Sixties – a time before the major societal and cultural developments of women’s rights and feminism. These women were taught from a young age that their place was in the home. Eva Green and I discussed this idea at length when we were talking about Eve. Someone like Eve would have been greatly influenced by the icons of that period: Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, and all of Hitchcock’s heroines who were the incarnation of the feminine ideal in their time.
These women would have all been role models for Eve, so she lives to project the image of the perfect wife and mother. One of my favorite scenes is the montage of an impeccably dressed Eve cleaning her house – which we intentionally shot and lit so it looks like one of those old TV commercials glorifying the happy, perfect housewife.
You mentioned Hitchcock, who wasn’t known for being a feminist. Kat’s mother seems more like a character from a Douglas Sirk melodrama…
Gregg Araki: Sirk is definitely a reference. And I guess you could say Hitchcock is almost more like the “anti” reference – since his women are systematically trapped, victimized, and even murdered as they are idealized and put on a pedestal. With White Bird, I wanted to show how the “paradise” of suburban America could turn into a sort of living hell. My set designer, when he first read the script, said: “Wow, that’s the story of my family!” [laughs]
The dilemma of the Connors family, beyond the story’s more extreme dramatic elements, is actually a pretty common one. The foundation of the American Dream is that everyone is supposed to have the same dream but the reality is that there is a lot of unhappiness, a lot of secrets and lies and hidden tragedy. Laura’s novel really eloquently points out that the American Dream doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.
It reminded me in a way of American Beauty (Sam Mendes – 1999) and The Ice Storm (Ang Lee – 1997), portraits of the American middle class that explore the darkness lurking beneath the seemingly perfect facade. Hollywood doesn’t really make that kind of movie anymore.
Kat is played by Shailene Woodley who has recently achieved international stardom as the heroine in the teenage saga Divergent (Neil Burger – 2014). Was this iconic element helpful to you?
Gregg Araki: I first discovered Shai through her heartbreaking performance in The Descendants (Alexander Payne – 2011). Coincidentally, she was a big fan of Mysterious Skin and I’ve known her manager, Nils Larsen, for years. He insisted that I meet Shai and we hit it off instantly. This was years before Divergent came along. She read the script for White Bird, loved it, and immediately signed on.
Shai actually reminds me a lot of Joe Gordon Levitt, who I worked with on Mysterious Skin. They are both incredibly talented and creative individuals who take their art very seriously – they’re not in it for fame or money or any of the bullshit. They both also have really great parents so they’re more centered and secure in themselves than some young actors who don’t have that kind of solid upbringing.
The role of Eve is a departure for Eva Green as she portrays a character who is significantly older than she is in real life. It’s a role unlike any we’ve seen her play before.
Gregg Araki: Eva’s performance in the movie just blew me away. Because the Eve character ages from early 30s to 40s, we debated casting an older actress and making her look younger with makeup and effects but I couldn’t get Eva out of my mind. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci –2003) and I was so excited for the chance to work with her. She and I were both very wary however of using prosthetics and “old age” makeup to make Eve look like the weary, older housewife she is in the film’s later half because that always looks so fake and terrible.
In the end, we barely touched her face, the makeup artist just very subtly enhanced what was already there. The rest is all Eva – she just miraculously became this entirely different person, her posture, body language, her very essence changed. She just kind of withered away. When I first saw her in character, wearing that sad grey sweater, lurking in the doorway, I was stunned because in real life Eva is one of the most gorgeous, radiant people I’ve ever met. She is literally like Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo, this otherworldly kind of presence.
In fact, Eva was only 32 when we shot the film, which is funny, because Shiloh Fernandez, the actor who plays Phil, Kat’s teenage boyfriend, was like 27 at the time; they could date in real life and no one would bat an eye. But the scene where the two of them are flirting is genuinely unnerving and creepy because they are both so skilled at making us believe those characters. The entire cast – Shai, Eva, Shiloh, Chris Meloni, Gabourey Sidibe, Tom Jane… I just feel incredibly blessed for the opportunity to work with such an amazing ensemble of actors. It really was like a dream come true.
White Bird in a Blizzard
Directed by: Gregg Araki
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe, Thomas Jane
Screenplay by: Gregg Araki, Laura Kasischke
Production Design by: Todd Fjelsted
Cinematography by: Sandra Valde-Hansen
Costume Design by; Mairi Chisholm
Set Decoration by: Ryan Watson
Music by: Harold Budd, Robin Guthrie
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content / nudity, language and some drug use.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: October 24, 2014