I’ve been asking myself for years now: Why do I want to do this anyway? I’m always coming up with more answers. Here are a couple that last.
Are you ready for a feminist rant? I swear, I’ll be brief as I can. For now.
When I was a teenager and later in college, I didn’t see anyone like me in movies. And I especially didn’t see anyone I thought I might ever one day resemble. I remember how deeply depressing it was to go to see another movie where the lead woman “found herself” by designing shoes or getting a makeover or finally allowing herself to stop being so uptight and to fall in love already. I remember when every single movie “for women” had a dressing room montage. I remember when Sex and the City the movie was a huge hit and it was in all the papers – Women Actually Go to the Movies!
Seriously? We’re half the world. We see most of the movies everyone else does. That includes The Wolf of Wall Street and Iron Man. I read somewhere recently that Olivia Wilde and some friends got together to do a reading of American Pie with the girls playing the guy roles and vice versa for fun, and the guys got tired and said it was boring playing the girls.
(By the way, it doesn’t surprise me that suddenly the romantic comedy doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Or hardly at all. That said, I miss it – I miss Nora Ephron. I think there’s still a place for it, but we are intelligent people. We don’t want movies written for idiots.)
I remember when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler first showed up on Saturday Night Live. Then Kristen Wiig. Bridesmaids. I mean, that movie just happened! A comedy with women! I remember when I discovered the writer-director Nicole Holofcener. I remember when I saw Lost in Translation with my parents at the theater.
And now there’s Girls. A TV show that is, admittedly, incredibly imperfect. And rough. I don’t know about it nowadays, but when it first came out, I laughed out loud with such a relief – and a tinge of envy. Because Lena Dunham had done it. Or gotten closer anyway. Life from the young woman’s perspective. A perspective that did not exist to flatter the girls on the show and make them look beautiful at all times or put together at all times. (In fact, the opposite. And why NOT? We’ve seen enough “beautiful” women’s naked bodies. We’ve seen enough movies and TV shows made for 14 year old boys.) And – this was a show where young women made terrible choices! Even degrading choices. Fantastic. They do it in real life as well. It’s not a good thing, but it happens. A TV show can reflect that.
Now, Girls has its limits for me and a lot of people. It’s missing its heart far too often. (In fact, the male characters are my favorites, and that feels like a really unfortunate glitch in the writing.) But it’s a start. And, luckily for me, I believe it’s a great place to step in.
I know that I am not the only female writer/director/actor who has seen this build-up in the past several years and sees a place for herself. There is room.
I am more than happy to work harder than I have ever worked before to find my place in this new world of filmmakers. And that’s what I’m doing. Except I hope to bring a lot of heart and depth to it. And humor. And a decent Midwestern perspective.
(Feminist rant over now, by the way)
I come from good people. My parents loved movies – so I loved movies. I used to escape with movies. That’s one of your options when you’re an incredibly introverted and awkward teenager. Books, painting, music, dance. That was me. But watching movies was the best way to completely immerse myself in something else. I remember my parents adoring Sense and Sensibility and Legends of the Fall – those great, sweeping epic movies with haunting, romantic music. I remember seeing Almost Famous with them – my dad always said he was like the kid in that movie – and nearly dying over how great music used to be. My mom remembers seeing suspense thrillers in the theater with my dad and how he would scare easily and would jump and the popcorn would go flying across the seats.
I remember my dad. He passed away five years ago now. I remember him howling over Fargo and Pulp Fiction (I remember him doing the dance from Pulp Fiction in our kitchen). I remember doing homework and him coming out of the living room where he’d been watching The Sound of Music. “When the dad comes in and starts singing ‘Edelweiss’ with the kids! Oh my god…” He sniffled back tears and laughed at himself before grabbing some ice cream that he would later flick to the dog in small spoonfuls every once in while as he finished the movie.
I also remember him in the last stages of his cancer, with very little hair and a white, white face. Late winter afternoon. He was lying in bed. His hands looked too big for his body, he’d gotten so thin. I hit play on the CD player and the soundtrack to Out of Africa filled the bedroom and he closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
In the week before he passed away we watched a lot of movies and TV. It’s all we could do. Sit. Some of my best, last memories are oddly of us watching things that made us laugh. I remember us watching Wanted and laughing hysterically at how absolutely ridiculous that movie is, the curving bullets. I remember my dad laughing so hard at Curb Your Enthusiasm that he cried. At that point, the tumor in his lungs was wrapping itself around his heart. He clutched at his chest and laughed airily, wincing. “Oh, that’s so funny, oh my god, that’s so funny.”
In the years since he passed away, I have wrestled with my old, pre-cancer, dreams of making movies. Of course death makes you question things. But I come back. I’ve always come back. I wanted to do this when I was seventeen and went away to New York for a summer to study filmmaking at NYU. Then I dropped it, scurried like a mouse trying fit myself into a theatre program. A poor fit. I got through college, made it to California. Wrote for a while. Badly. Everything was about cancer and little of it was worth saving except one short story about a young woman returning home for her friend’s wedding and failing to be a good sport about it because of her dad’s death.
Now it’s about to be a movie. I believe I have it in me to do it well. Not perfectly, but well. I have my convictions. I have an incredible, supportive community. No dad to show the film to when it’s all over, but, then again, I knew that from the beginning of all this.
I’ll have a movie about a girl who I know feels real – even though she is not me. I can argue that until the cows come home, that she is an alternate version of me, but many will still think it’s me. Some writers say that every character they write is a version of them. That might be true of me. The good and the ugly. One thing’s for sure, the father in this movie, in June Falling Down, is not my dad. I would never try to re-create him. I could only fail.
My friend who read the script said it made her sad, the hard parts, but that every time you find yourself tearing up, there’s a bit of humor afterward to keep you going. A chaser of funny. I hope it works that way.
It’s the experience of cancer, the experience of grief, the silly moments in a family, my version of what it’s like to be a young woman in this world now – that’s all I can do. A thumbnail painting, slice of life, call it what you will. I believe it’s a movie worth making. It will have heart, it will have humor. It will feel like me. It’s all I can offer right now.
My parents, probably younger than I am now.