Featuring strong performances across the board from the entire cast, a sharp script by Russo-Young and Lena Dunham (“Girls”) and unexpectedly mature views on relationships and sexuality, it’s bound to be a conversation starter when it’s released this fall. We called it “one of the best” from Sundance this year and after taking a look at the film a second time at BAM over the weekend, we stand behind that sentiment. We interviewed director Russo-Young last week where she told us about working with co-writer Dunham on the screenplay as well as creating a cast of characters with whom the audience’s sympathies are constantly shifting. After the screening -- where we spotted director Deborah Granik (“Winter’s Bone”) and comedian Michael Showalter (“Stella”) in attendance -- there was a lively Q&A featuring co-writers Ry Russo-Young and Lena Dunham along with cast members Olivia Thirlby and India Ennenga. The quartet of ladies were on hand to discuss trying (and failing) to make a non-female-centric film, casting John Krasinski in the Jon Lovitz role and how sound can create accidental intimacy.
Describing the origins of the film, Russo-Young said it began with a mutual fascination of Los Angeles. “Lena and I kind of came together always knowing that, you know, we were gonna write something together that I was gonna then direct. I think we kinda went back and forth in terms of characters, I created one character, she created another character, and then we started working those characters together and finding ways in which they could kind of connect, and bouncing them off each other. I think it also came from a fascination of Los Angeles, and that was a place that people visited and been to, but were also really interested in and intrigued by.”
Dunham said for a long time she had been “big fan of Ry's from afar” and was excited at the opportunity to collaborate with her on the screenplay. “I was always like four years behind her so, sort of like, enamoured of her in the way that, like, pre-teens are of teens, and I loved her first two features so much, so I was just really excited by the idea of getting to be involved in any way with her process, I think.” Because Dunham knew that Russo-Young would be directing it, she didn’t feel the same pressure as with her own projects. “We knew the entire time that [Ry would] be directing the movie, so I always compared it with you know you're pregnant with a kid, but you know you're gonna give it up so you don't name it and you don't get that attached to it – like, in the best way.”
Russo-Young was equally effusive with praise for her co-writer, saying she felt lucky to get “the opportunity to work with Lena early on.” She continued, “And the writing that I've learnt from her in terms of her ear for dialogue and incredible astute nature in terms of characters, is something that I feel like she completely brought to this movie and made it come alive.” This helped alleviate her fears about working with a larger budget and higher profile cast than her previous features saying, “We were all working on such a great blueprint, I think that's one of the things that helped kind of cast the movie and get the whole movie in gear.”
Dunham recalled that the genesis of the script had also come out of both filmmakers desire to do something different. “I think it's also really funny, we first had this idea cause we'd both written I think one feature at that point, Ry made two when we started they'd been super female-centric,” she said referring to “Tiny Furniture” in which Dunham herself starred as the lead and Russo-Young’s two features “You Won’t Miss Me” and “Orphans,” which both featured a female lead. “There was this idea we were gonna make a movie with a male protagonist, which clearly didn't work out. But it was, like, this funny thing was like we were sort of running away in some way, over and over again from what the movie was and a big part of the Sundance Lab was sort of like figuring out, like – we both have this sort of feminist, female-centric concerns, and sort of these big sort of meta-questions about balancing life and art, and gender and sexuality, and that we didn't have to be afraid of those.”