Category: Independent Movies
The director’s new film isn’t without resonance, writes Richard Lawson from Cannes, but is too preoccupied with its least interesting character.
There are maybe three different movies fighting against each other in Woody Allen’s new film, Café Society, which opened the 2016 Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday night. It’s part creakily nostalgic ode to Old Hollywood, part satiric appreciation of the Jewish-American male’s romantic neuroses, and part wistful, half-serious rumination on the ephemeral fixations of love.
I like that last movie, Allen in his reflective years revisiting a familiar, old trope—the sexual-social peccadillos of the heterosexual intellectual—with a final huff of “Eh, who knows?” Café Society ends on a pleasing note of bittersweet ambiguity—or perhaps there’s nothing ambiguous about it, Allen arguing that there is certainly some uncertainty in life, always a wondering about what could be, a speculation that never quite merits seeking out answers.
But the other two-thirds of this disjointed movie, which starts in 1930s Los Angeles and ends in the New York City social scene referenced in the title, is Allen at his most lazily Allen-ish, Jesse Eisenberg’s aspiring somebody (what he does to “make it” doesn’t really matter) rattling through scene after scene of fretting dully over women, all of whom are inexplicably attracted to this irksome, self-involved jerk.
Those women are played by Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively, both giving appealing performances. (Though, Stewart’s cadence is perhaps a bit too modern.) Neither character—the Hollywood assistant Eisenberg’s Bobby courts nor the New York society gal he eventually marries—is very fleshed out, but these two often unfairly maligned actresses do their best at pretending that Bobby is worth anyone’s time.
Buried underneath all of Café Society’s cheap-looking period gloss—the cinematography, by Vittorio Storaro, is oddly lush and intricate and garish for an Allen picture—is a simple story of a young man exploring the sense of possibility he finds in women. The movie treats its female characters as territory to be discovered, resources to be used, in Bobby’s journey toward manhood. There will always be another girl flickering and flaring on the outskirts of a man’s life, roads not taken more than people not known, and there is something a little sad, and a little sweet about that, Café Society suggests.
Which, sure. At 80 years old, Allen is well positioned to look back at the entanglements of youth with a knowing sigh. But much of Café Society is tainted by a cynical, transactional view of (straight) sex and romance, Allen perhaps setting his film in the shimmery past to protect himself from the glare of social consciousness. There’s a truly hideous scene in which Bobby hires a prostitute (played by Anna Camp with her usual despite-it-all dignity) who shows up late, annoying Bobby, and then practically begs him to sleep with her out of a desperate need for validation. Allen used to be somewhat insightful about women—Hannah and Her Sisters at least had a glow of empathy to it—but his view on the sexes has gotten narrower and far less charitable as he’s aged.
Bobby and his uncle, a high-powered agent played with alarming flatness by Steve Carell, consistently forgive their own loutishness as they go, preventing the film from achieving any truly honest self-assessment. Ultimately, Allen seems not nostalgic for the particular era of his birth—the dread-tinged time between the Depression and World War II—but instead for a certain callowness that is no longer celebrated the way it used to be. Only one man, Bobby’s gangster brother, played by Corey Stoll, gets any comeuppance for his loutishness, but it’s for a number of murders.
Bobby and his uncle—both philanderers and objectifiers of women—don’t need to be punished, of course, but some sense of balance or fairness or perspective would be appreciated here. Especially when the movie is so stocked with talented actresses giving winning performances. There’s Stewart and Lively, but also Parker Posey as a Dorothy Parker–esque friend, Jeannie Berlin as Bobby’s plainspoken mother, and a warm Sari Lennick as his sister.
Still, when Café Society reaches its quiet conclusion, Allen has managed to conjure up some pensive feeling, softening his movie’s jarring pointiness. The film is nowhere near as effective as, say, Midnight in Paris’s murmuring about time, or his earlier dramas’ rueful interpersonal wisdom, but it’s not entirely without resonance. I just wish the film wasn’t so fascinated by the least interesting character wandering around this whole crazy scene called life.
Isabelle Huppert talks about taking the opposite view of ‘misogynistic’ director Paul Verhoeven and gracing the London stage for the first time in two decades in Phaedra(s).
There is little in the way of false modesty from Isabelle Huppert. It’s the day after the screening of Elle at the Cannes Film Festival and the Paul Verhoeven thriller has received rave reviews. It’s a sensational film adaptation of the novel Oh by Philippe Djian and sees Huppert plays a rape victim who turns the tables on her rapist. The actress is in nearly every scene of the movie and comments, “That’s why I was never bored watching it last night.”
It’s hard to argue with the sentiment, because anyone who has seen many of her 100-plus roles, since her debut in 1971, will attest that she’s usually beguiling. The magic of Huppert is that she seems to do so much by doing so little. Verhoeven raved, “She’s the best actress I’ve worked with. I just followed her instinct and let her do what she wanted.”
At the age of 63, the Paris-born star is having a vintage year. So it’s our luck that she seems to be everywhere over the next month. There is a cinematic retrospective of her work taking place in London at the Cine Lumiere and the Barbican with accompanying screen talks by the actress, and in June the Barbican Theatre is putting on Phaedra(s), Huppert’s latest theatrical performance.
It will be the first time in two decades that Huppert has graced the London stage. The play, directed by Polish auteur Krzysztof Warlikowski, has just had a two-month run in Paris; it is performed in French, so one can expect it to be a spectacle from the first night. Of course, Huppert thinks she’ll be great.
“I could do it in English, but that is not the agenda,” she chimes about the radical reconstruction of the Greek myth. “It’s not exactly Phaedra, it’s several different Phaedras, including Sarah Kane’s Phaedre’s Love and there are excerpts from the book Elizabeth Costello by JM Coetzee, as well as the text from Euripides.”
One imagines that even if the text was by a five-year-old, Huppert would bring something unique to the performance. She’s been at the top of her game for four decades. She won a Bafta as Most Promising Newcomer for her turn as the virginal Beatrice in The Lacemaker in 1977.
There is no other actress who could make Paul Verhoeven appear like a pussycat. The Dutch director has been described as a misogynist on countless occasions. After all, he’s famous for getting Sharon Stone to cross her legs in Basic Instinct and leaving nothing to the imagination in Showgirls; yet put Huppert in the picture and all of a sudden he makes a film that can only be described as classy, even one being referred to at Cannes as a “rape comedy”.
“You have all this talk of Verhoeven as a misogynist, but to me he’s the opposite,” says Huppert. “Ever since I discovered his first film, I saw Turkish Delight, the film was also mistaken at the time. It was taken as a semi-porno film and was released in a porno video and it only got one good review and that was in Charlie Hebdo, who said it was a masterpiece and he was a good director. So there has always been this blurred vision of him as a director.”
Huppert has recently become a cinema owner. “I’m going to digress because my son programmes a cinema I bought in Paris. It’s in the Rue Christine, and was called Action Christine and we’ve renamed it Cinema Christine 21.”
Recently, Huppert has been a lot more open about her family. She recently appeared on the cover of a magazine with Lolita Chammah, one of three children she has had with her husband of 34 years Ronald Chammah, a producer she met on the set of a 1980 Claude Chabrol movie. “She’s a good actress,” Huppert says of her daughter. “I’ll play her mother soon. I have a supporting role in a film she is making in Luxembourg. The movie talks a lot about involuntary transmission between parents and children.”
The bonds that tie a mother and daughter are also something that takes place on screen, as well as off for the actress. In another of her great roles this year, Huppert plays a woman who discovers there is life after separation in Things to Come, directed by Mia Hansen-Love. The French director once played Huppert’s daughter in Olivier Assayas’s 2000 drama Sentimental Destines.
“And now she becomes my mother,” chirps Huppert. Explaining, “A director is always a bit of a mother to an actress. You can be young and have an old soul, or old and be a young spirit.” The latter is a category that Huppert seems to fit perfectly.
“As an actress, I felt like during the film she has the power and she directed me a lot, maybe more than other directors on other occasions. She had this vision of this character being very open, and very light and instinctively, maybe my deep nature, would be to go for something darker, a little harsher.”
Indeed, there is a certain sang-froid that Huppert instills in her characters. They get their strength from the fact that nothing seems to phase them, they are able to overcome the worst horrors. It’s what made her so magnificent in Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, a film that Elle has echoes of in its opening scene. The norm is that as soon as you see Huppert onscreen, you have the idea that her character will overcome all obstacles.
“Well, it’s normal that you think that,” says Huppert, when I ask her if she references her past roles when making contemporary films. “But for me, as an actress there is no link to what I’ve done previously. Because it’s me, you make the connection. People seem to think that you have connections with the roles you play, but the more I think about it, the more I realise I have nothing to do with those characters, those people are total foreigners to me.”
Last month, the first glimpse of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting sequel hit the internet in the form of leaked set shots Ewen Bremner’s Spud strolling around the streets of Edinburgh.
From that moment on, numerous photographs have hit the internet, showing the cast of the 1996 classic reunited in character.
Thanks to some pesky photographers, the first shots of Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller as Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton and Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson have arrived.
Surprisingly, the down-and-out heroin addicts look relatively dressed up, both wearing suits as they enter a government building. However, Sick Boy still has his bleached blonde hair.
The sequel will be based on author Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting sequel, Porno, which was released in 2002.
Recently speaking about filming in Scotland, Boyle said: “I feel very fortunate and grateful to be able to make films, and to be able to always have a choice in what I do.
“Coming back to Edinburgh has actually been really fascinating, since filming the first Trainspotting Edinburgh has changed dramatically. You can see the gentrification massively in the city.”
Minimum wage, minimum cammitment.
TEMPS is an indie romantic comedy that follows Jefferson, a loveable ski-bum temp worker, whose singular joy comes from an annual excursion to the slopes with fellow vagabond Curtis. But when Jefferson falls for fellow temp worker, Stephanie, an ambitious go-getter, he is forced to re-evaluate his priorities.
Jefferson (Grant Rosenmeyer) is a lovable ski-bum temp worker whose singular joy comes from an annual excursion to the slopes with fellow vagabond / best friend, Curtis (Reid Ewing). When Jefferson falls for fellow temp worker, Stephanie (Lindsey Shaw), an ambitious go-getter, he is forced to re-evaluate his minimum wage, minimum commitment lifestyle.
Eden Sher (The Middle) plays Stephanie’s witty best friend while Chris Bauer (True Blood) plays Jefferson’s slacker dad in this funny, heartfelt, workplace-romance from award winning director Ryan Sage (A Big Love Story), writer Tim Bennett-Huxtable and producer Jason Duplissea.
Film Review: Temps
If nothing else, Ryan Sage’s romantic comedy Temps illustrates how dating standards have changed over the years. In the past, things had gotten serious when people had sex, or decided to live together. Now the most important barometer is updating your “relationship status” on Facebook.
Unfortunately, despite such timely insights and the appealing performances of its two leads, Temps lives up to its name by disappearing from your memory moments after viewing. It depicts in all-too-familiar style the romance between temp workers Jefferson (Grant Rosenmeyer) and Stephanie (Lindsey Shaw), who, as one character in the film puts it, are “running the bases backwards” — in other words, getting to know each other and doing traditional “couple” things after already having had sex.
And as the pic make clear, they do have sex, and lots of it, with their infatuation depicted in a series of soft-core lovemaking scenes that, if nothing else, effectively convey the unbridled physical passion that often accompanies a new relationship. The performers go through their frequently athletic paces, often with comic gusto, making the segments refreshingly fun as compared to the coyness of so many rom-com sexual encounters.
But, as is often true of sex, the couplings eventually prove repetitive, and the story that surrounds them doesn’t add up to much. Jefferson is revealed as the sort of standard immature male commitment-phobe who freaks out when Stephanie makes the aforementioned change to her Facebook profile. Cue the inevitable relationship problems, which lead to the inevitable break-up, which lead to his inevitable breakdown (he acts out at the office and gets himself fired), which lead to his inevitable efforts to win her back to … well, you get the idea.
Tim Bennett-Huxtable’s screenplay uses such characters for comic relief as Curtis (Reid Ewing) Jefferson’s wacky roommate who dreams of being a dancer, and Lorelai (Alexa Giuffre), his obnoxiously needy co-worker at the sex shop where he begins working after losing his job. There’s also an attempt at drama in the form of Jefferson’s contentious relationship with his slacker father (Chris Bauer), who’s content to do nothing and live on a friend’s boat.
Most of the humor is of the predictable or ribald variety, such as when Stephanie begs off providing oral services because she has “lockjaw.” More problematically, her character is developed less than Jefferson’s, with the resulting imbalance proving detrimental to the film. It’s particularly noticeable since Shaw emerges as a funny, sexy comedienne whose character is far more appealing than her male counterpart, who sizes up potential mates by their opinion on Godzilla versus King Kong.
Directed by: Ryan Sage
Starring: Grant Rosenmeyer, Lindsey Shaw, Reid Ewing, Eden Sher, Chris Bauer, Alexa Giuffre, Corinne Chooey, Celia Finkelstein
Screenplay by: Timothy A. Bennett
Production Design by: Kerri Parker
Cinematography by: Stephen Sheridan
Film Editing by: Ryan Sage
Music by: John DeBorde
MPAA Rating: None.
Release Date: April 8, 2016
All you need is love.
At once gritty, whimsical and highly theatrical, Revolution Studios’ Across the Universe is a groundbreaking movie musical, springing from the imagination of renowned writer director Julie Taymor, and and writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, that brings together an original story and 33 revolutionary songs – including “Hey Jude,” “I Am the Walrus,” and “All You Need is Love” – that defined a generation. Taymor says, “The idea was to create an original musical using only the songs of the Beatles.”
A love story set against the backdrop of the 1960s amid the turbulent years of anti-war protest, mind exploration and rock ‘n roll, the film moves from the dockyards of Liverpool to the creative psychedelia of Greenwich Village, from the riot-torn streets of Detroit to the killing fields of Vietnam.
The star-crossed lovers, Jude (Jim Sturgess) and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), along with a small group of friends and musicians, are swept up into the emerging anti-war and counterculture movements, with “Dr. Robert” (Bono) and “Mr. Kite” (Eddie Izzard) as their guides. Tumultuous forces outside their control ultimately tear the young lovers apart, forcing Jude and Lucy – against all odds – to find their own way back to each other.
Across the Universe
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Max Carrigan, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther, T.V. Carpio
Directed by: Julie Taymor
Screenplay by: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some drug content, nudity, sexuality, violence.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: September 21, 2007
Julie Taymor, the groundbreaking visionary behind Revolution Studios’ new film Across the Universe, says that she first conceived a film that would, in her words, “investigate the ‘60s. It had to penetrate all levels of the Beatles’ songs. From the love songs to the political songs, the music and the film would not just reflect the microcosm of a character’s experience, but, from my perspective, would also represent the macrocosm of the events that are happening in the world.”
For Taymor, though the film is set a generation back, making the story and the film fresh and alive for today’s audiences was the entire point. “I really want young people to see the passion in this movie – to see with what fervor these characters invested themselves into social movements as well as self-exploration,” she says. “I hope it really speaks ‘across the universe’ and across cultures… that anybody could identify with the situations and the events that are happening in this movie.”
According to producer Jennifer Todd, the film is an artistic statement from Taymor. “In addition to being a unique voice, Julie is the hardest-working director I’ve ever worked with,” she says. “It’s an amazingly satisfying experience to work with someone who lives and breathes the movie morning, noon, and night. One particular weekend, we went away and came back to discover that an entire new sequence had been invented. Because she’s like that, she attracts people who want to work just as hard to achieve her vision.”
Producer Matthew Gross, who generated the project, concurs. “Julie is a national treasure,” he says. “She is a true artist – not only does she bring visual appeal, but she has just the right touch with the singers and dancers, which was so necessary for this film. The work she did in Titus and Frida show her incredible vision. In addition, because everyone wants to work with Julie Taymor – and with good reason – she is able to attract top artists and amazing talent to work with her. She is a tremendous asset to the film in every way.”
Unlike most musicals, where a story comes first and songs are inserted in at key points, the songs created the story. “Beginning with over 200 songs written by the Beatles, we eventually chose 33 that we felt best told the story of a generation and a time,” says Taymor.
Todd explains, “The film is an original musical and it has an original story – one you’ve never seen before, inspired by Beatles’ music in a way that you haven’t heard before.” “The entire concept of this musical,” Taymor explains, “is that the lyrics will tell the story. They are the libretto, they are the arias, they are the emotion of the characters.” Although Taymor was only in her early teens in the 1960s, the story was inspired by her childhood observations:
“Lucy and Max, the brother and sister, are modeled slightly after my own older brother and sister, and I’m Julia, the young girl who’s watching. During that time, I was a voyeur to what my parents were going through with teenagers and then college students who were going through the radical political movement: the draft, the hippies, the drugs. And so I was there – I didn’t get immersed myself, but I watched it.”
Taymor admired the outspoken spirit of the time. “People really took chances,” she says. “As Lucy says, ‘I’d lie down in front of a tank if it would bring my brother home from the war.’ And of course Jude responds, ‘But it wouldn’t,’ and she gets upset and she says, ‘Does that mean you don’t think I should try?’ I’m so moved by the fact that at that time, people would try.”
But Taymor definitely did not view the project as a piece of nostalgia. She notes that many of the issues facing young people in the ‘60s are still very relevant today. The filmmakers’ goal was to translate the passion and feeling of the 60s and have it resonate in a way that made it feel as contemporary as possible. The reason to make a film like this, in her mind, was the immediacy of the themes. “You constantly have to revisit these stories in order to reflect upon your present and really think, ‘What is it that’s different now?’” Taymor says. “That era is explicitly important to our time now.”
In order to bring the era to life, Taymor and screenwriters Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais created an entirely new story, using the songs to guide their way. “Characters were created for the songs,” Taymor continues. “For example, the character Prudence: I loved the idea of taking ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and giving it to an innocent cheerleader in Ohio.”
The song begins with the young girl singing plaintively on the sidelines of the football field. “We don’t change the lyrics,” says Taymor, “but partway through, you realize she’s not in love with the quarterback – she’s in love with the blonde cheerleader. All of the sudden the song works in a totally different way, because it’s about repressed love. By the end of the song, this young girl, who doesn’t even know what she’s feeling, leaves home. She hitchhikes her way to New York City. Without having to go into the background of the character, without having to see her mother and her father and her life story, the song says it all.”
“As we went through the journeys of characters, songs came up,” Taymor continues. “In the story, Max is going to be drafted into the Army. I went through dozens of songs until finally I got to ‘I Want You’ and it registered in my head, ‘My God, “I Want You,” isn’t that the Uncle Sam motto?’” It was a perfect fit.
In still other cases, like “Revolution,” the directness of the lyrics led them to portray the emotion of a scene in a stronger way than dialogue could. “When Jude sings ‘Revolution,’ he’s actually breaking into the Students For Democratic Reform office, going right up to Lucy, and using the emotion of the music and those lyrics to express himself instead of saying it just with straight dialogue,” notes Taymor. “He keeps singing because he’s in a state of being that is beyond the everyday; he’s in a heightened state that’s going to get him beat up and thrown out by the end of the song. It really helps us encapsulate time, because the music helps you to go very quickly through an emotional state and get to another level that is very, very heightened and very dramatic.”
Related Link: View the Full Production Notes for Across the Universe
Cybergeddon follows the story of agent Chloe Jocelyn as she investigates a slew of seemingly unrelated cyberattacks with fellow agent Frank Parker and incarcerated master hacker Chase ‘Rabbit’ Rosen. Chloe and her team must crack the worldwide cybercrime ring led by Gustov Dobreff before it is too late. In a world where everyone is connected, everyone is at risk.
Cybergeddon will debut exclusively in over 25 countries and 10 languages on Yahoo! in a series of nine digital chapters – three per day over the course of three consecutive days. The experience on Yahoo! includes an immersive site featuring additional clips that provide a deeper narrative with the characters, exclusive on-set photos, behind-the-scenes clips and interviews with the cast and crew. It will also host a special section where people can go to learn more about the stark realities of cybercrime.
Zuiker, Bill O’Dowd, CEO of Dolphin Digital Studios, and the film’s creators made a firm commitment to ensuring the storytelling around Cybergeddon was not only highly compelling and suspenseful, but also inspired by real-life cybersecurity concerns. To that end, the Zuiker team partnered with online security expert Norton by Symantec throughout the creative process to lend technical insights.
“Cybergeddon is a cinematic experience that breaks traditional rules. With the global distribution arm of Yahoo!, we will give viewers a way to have more to do after watching the segments to gain more knowledge and further interact with the storyline and cast,” said Zuiker. “The best part is that all of this can be experienced on any device, anytime and anywhere, day and date with the launch of Cybergeddon.”
There’s no such thing as going too far.
Angelina (Ashley Hinshaw) is an 18-year-old on the verge of finishing high school, rushing to escape her broken family life. After reluctantly taking nude photos at her boyfriend’s (Jonny Weston) behest, she takes the cash to skip town with her best friend (Dev Patel). Angelina gets a job cocktailing in a San Francisco strip club where she meets Frances (James Franco), an affluent lawyer who introduces her to a high-class world beyond her wildest dreams.
At the same time, Angelina begins exploring San Francisco’s porn industry, using the moniker Cherry, under the wing of a former performer turned adult film director (Heather Graham). But Angelina’s newfound ideal lifestyle soon comes apart at the seams. About Cherry challenges assumptions about sexuality and pornography, while addressing the common struggle of finding one’s role in life.
This bold debut film by author Stephen Elliott, a visual love letter to San Francisco, is the story of high school student Angelica (a mesmerizing Ashley Hinshaw), whose choices lead her from a depressing home life and dead-end job in Los Angeles to the fetish-filled Bay Area adult film world.
A stepfather with dark motives lurks in the background, as Angelica watches over her younger sister and questions her options. In memorable supporting roles are Festival favorite Lili Taylor as Angelica’s manic and opportunistic mother, Jonny Weston as her sexy but sleazy boyfriend and Dev Patel as best friend and much-needed nonsexual support.
The vibrant cast also includes James Franco as a coke-addicted attorney who spots Angelica in a strip club, and Heather Graham as a female porn director who launches “Cherry’s” adult film career with mixed feelings. A gritty and defiantly voyeuristic look at the life of a youth who never loses her innocence, even as she gyrates for the camera, Cherry captures a rare point of view, urging us to consider the delicate tension between body and self by focusing on society’s most sought after objects of desire.
Directed by: Stephen Elliott
Starring: James Franco, Heather Graham, Dev Patel, Ashley Hinshaw, Lili Taylor, Diane Farr, Elana Krausz
Screenplay by: Stephen Elliott, Lorelei Lee
Production Design by: Michael Grasley
Cinematography by: Darren Genet
Film Editing by: Michelle Botticelli
Costume Design by: Daniella Turner
Set Decoration by: Tyler Kowalski
Art Direction by: Christopher Gaw
Music by: Jeff Russo
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, including nudity, language and some drug material.
Studio: IFC Films
Release Date: September 21, 2012
The romantic travails of smart, funny, attractive young people are always fodder for light-hearted comedy-except when the light hearts are countered by heartache. CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER transforms the conventional romantic comedy with a bracingly honest real-life vibe, exploring both the comedy and complexity of love and friendship.
“Will and I grew up with romantic comedies, but the ones we love are all about heartbreak,” says the luminous Rashida Jones, who co-wrote the screenplay with actor Will McCormack and also stars as Celeste. “We wanted to invert what everybody expects from this kind of story. Of course we’re all completely familiar with the archetypes and structures and story points of romantic comedy-so we wanted to flip it. To keep the humor and the audience’s emotional connection to it but get something new.”
Rashida Jones and Will McCormack are laughingly frank about the real-life parallel between their own personal history and their collaborative screenplay. “As a couple we were short-lived and ancient history, but we knew we could be friends,” says Will, who nails the sidekick role of Skillz the pot dealer with comic skeeziness. “We wrote this whole movie side-by-side on one computer. We wrote every word together. Because we have been so close for so long, there was a real shorthand during the writing process. And as new writers, we were very encouraging of each other.” CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER is a first-time screenwriting effort for both actor-writers.
As Will elaborates, “Celeste and Jesse are definitely more amplified versions of us. Celeste’s journey is interesting because she is someone who thinks she can outsmart heartache. That’s something that happens to other people. She does everything she can to avoid it.”
Indeed, Celeste offers a twist on an archetype that movies love to scorn: the alpha woman. “Yup, Celeste is the high-powered career driver and Jesse is the passive guy who won’t grow up-all the makings of a clichÃ©,” says Rashida. “But the balance between them keeps shifting out of Celeste’s control, which kills her as a controller. When the reality of losing Jesse hits, she’s just blindsided.” Celeste’s ambitious striver is given more compassionate dimensionality than the alpha woman stereotype is usually afforded.
“Personally, I can relate to a line like ‘The father of my child will own a car'” says producer Jennifer Todd, herself a professional dynamo with both studio blockbusters and independent dramas to her name. “Celeste is a very, very recognizable present-day woman. But by the rules of studio comedy, she would have to lose her job, have a comeuppance. And she would also have to fall down in high heels a lot. Embarrassing things would happen to her. An ambitious woman has to become a loser to be likeable. Rashida didn’t write her or play her that way.”
Director Lee Toland Krieger remarks that “Even in 2012 you rarely see an ambitious Type A woman onscreen who’s more than a caricature. Rashida’s character can be tough and very serious about her career and also have a sweetness and sadness.” Krieger’s first feature, THE VICIOUS KIND, attracted Todd and the writers for its sinewy drama; “Just reading the script I understood that they didn’t want a fluff piece. They wanted a story about what heartbreak is really like. I was thinking HUSBANDS AND WIVES and I could see how a lot of other filmmakers might be thinking of something broader. It’s maybe harder to take at times and a bit more gut-wrenching, but I think people will respond to that honesty.”
“It was a really tricky tone to find,” Rashida points out. “There are so many turns in the movie that are so hard and so quick, and it goes from being funny and broad to really sad and hopefully truthful-it needed somebody who got that range to find what the thread is.”
But don’t worry, it’s still a comedy. Emotional truth notwithstanding, the goal is entertainment-hard to miss with the likes of SNL alum ANDY SAMBERG as Jesse, and an ensemble featuring Emma Roberts, Chris Messina, Elijah Wood and the rest of the supporting cast. As bad girl pop star Riley, Emma Roberts’s sulky stoner is the antithesis of Celeste’s uber-functional know-it-all. “Riley lives in a totally different world than Celeste,” says Emma, “So it’s hilarious to see when their worlds meet and they are forced to interact. Riley is oblivious but she isn’t stupid. I think she just doesn’t know how to behave appropriately in certain situations. I think they both are kind of fascinated by each other because they are such opposites. I love how their relationship goes from annoyance to a kind of love for each other. Or at least an understanding.”
Echoing the film’s themes of love and friendship, a network of longtime relationships enlivens the CELESTE AND JESSE cast and crew. Andy Samberg’s friendship with Rashida dates back to his stand-up comic days around LA, and they are old friends with instant chemistry onscreen. Producer Todd’s acquaintance with Rashida goes back to high school (where Rashida looked up admiringly to the slightly older and reportedly cooler Jennifer), and Jen gave Will McCormack one of his first film roles, in THE BOILER ROOM. Jen’s sister and Team Todd partner SUZANNE TODD shares producer credit (as well as with LEE NELSON). Chris Messina, who plays Celeste’s surprisingly astute suitor Paul, is Jennifer’s husband. On the tech side, director Lee Toland Krieger brought on a crack team of frequent collaborators, including Director of Photography DAVID LANZENBERG and his crew.
To pull it all together, producer Lee Nelson’s Envision Media Arts stepped up with the lifeblood of financing. “Jennifer and Rashida were trying to get CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER done on the financing side, and felt that they weren’t able to make the film they wanted to make when they reached out to us. We read the material, and loving it and loving the people involved, we felt like these are the kind of artists that we want to be aligned with-so we took a flier and financed 100% of the film.” By all reports, the all-union, modestly-budgeted production was remarkably fun for the cast and crew as they dashed around numerous LA locations and onward to San Francisco and Rhode Island (where the wedding scene was shot). “It was an absolute joy making this film,” says Nelson. “It was a very collaborative set with a very positive vibe.”
The joy must be especially rich for Rashida Jones, as the co-writer and title character, seeing her first screenwriting outing come to fruition. “Acting in a film that you wrote is a real privilege and a creative advantage,” she says. “As the writer, you know the genesis of the joke, the scene and the relationship. The process of making the film was extremely grass roots, which gave the movie an organic, lived-in feel.”
Related Link: Celeste and Jesse Forever Full Production Notes
In Los Angeles, substitute schoolteacher Peter and aspiring writer Lorna are a couple in their twenties making a film documentary. Their subject is a secretive cult led by the mysterious Maggie (Brit Marling), whom they plan to expose as a fraud.
When the cult considers Peter and Lorna ready to meet Maggie, they are made to shower thoroughly and dress in white surgical gowns. Then they are driven blindfolded to a secret basement location and received by Klaus, with whom they exchange a distinctive, intricate handshake, which they have been practicing. Peter and Lorna then join eight other members and meet Maggie, who uses an oxygen tank and implies that the showering and clothing requirements are to avoid aggravating her illness.
Maggie claims to be a time-traveler from the year 2054. She describes the future as riddled with war, famine and struggle, and has come back to select a special band of chosen people to prepare for what lies ahead. She leads the group in a series of intense psychological exercises and tells them about herself and the future, never proving nor disproving her extraordinary claim. Maggie’s charismatic manner is powerful, and both Lorna and Peter have moments in which they waver between skepticism and belief. Lorna is especially concerned when she notices that Peter, who was initially adamant that Maggie was a charlatan, seems to now be intrigued by and even attracted to Maggie.
After several group meetings, Maggie instructs Peter to bring her the eccentric eight-year-old Abigail Pritchett, one of his students. Maggie insists Abigail is her mother, and that Peter and Lorna will be banned from the group if he fails to comply. When Peter admits that he is considering following Maggie’s orders, Lorna is outraged and accuses him of falling for Maggie’s deception. After they argue, Lorna is privately approached by Carol, a woman who identifies herself as a Justice Department agent. Carol tells Lorna that Maggie is wanted for a variety of felonies. Lorna agrees to set Maggie up to be captured and to hide this plan from Peter.
Sound of My Voice is a 2011 American psychological thriller directed by Zal Batmanglij and starring Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius and Brit Marling. The plot focuses on two documentary filmmakers who attempt to expose a cult led by a charismatic leader (Marling) who claims to be from the future. The film was written by Batmanglij and Marling. It premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. It was also selected to close the 2011 SXSW Film Festival. The film was released by Fox Searchlight Pictures on April 27, 2012.
Sound of My Voice
Directed by: Zal Batmanglij
Starring: Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius, Brit Marling, Avery Kristen Pohl, Davenia McFadden, Christy Meyers, Constance Wu
Screenplay by: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
Production Design by: Scott Enge
Cinematography by: Rachel Morrison
Film Editing by: Tamara Meem
Costume Design by: Sarah de Sa Rego
Set Decoration by: Alys Thompson
Music by: Rostam Batmanglij
MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references, and brief drug use.
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release Date: April 27th, 2012
Related Link: Sound of My Voice Movie Full Production Notes