Monday, 1 December 2014

My Most Significant Director: Lynn Shelton

Fig 1 MovPins (2011)
I debated long and hard when it came to my most significant director, not least because up until this year I had never even heard of Lynn Shelton - and to be completely honest, Shelton isn't my favourite director; Wes Anderson is. In fact I am such an Anderson fan-girl, in Spring this year, after having an argument with my then-fiancĂ© (now husband) on the way to the cinema during opening week of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) I actually made him turn around and drive home rather than risk tainting my appreciation of Anderson's latest cinematic offering with my black mood...Yes, I think we can safely say this is the nerdiest thing I have ever confessed. But another factor that made me hesitant in writing about Shelton was that the irony wasn't lost on me that despite my wanting to write a feature screenplay, I've chosen a director/writer  who specialises in improvised dialogue. So how much can I be influenced by someone whose filmmaker's map was once described as 'Scriptless in Seattle' (Rochlin, 2012)? A lot it seems, because despite having never come across a Lynn Shelton movie until about six months ago - after I watched the incredible Your Sister's Sister (2011), something shifted within me; and her way of storytelling is something I utterly aspire to.
Starring Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWhitt - Your Sister's Sister tells the story of Jack, Iris and Hannah. A year after the death of Jack's brother; Jack's best friend Iris invites Jack to stay at her family's island get away. Whilst there, Jack meets Hannah - Iris's lesbian sister; and a bottle of dusty tequila (and the kind of heartfelt conversations you can only have with a complete stranger) later, Jack and Hannah end up in bed together. When Iris shows up at this island the next day, all three characters are forced to re-evaluate and admit to secrets that had, up until that point, long kept hidden. Your Sister's Sister makes for a fascinatingly confident piece of filmmaking not least because it is a movie that primarily consists of three characters talking, one boathouse and a rusty red bicycle. However what was completely magic for me was that despite being low on cast members and set locations, Your Sister's Sister is undoubtedly a fully-formed and beautiful film, driven wholly by superb and complex character development and raw engaging dialogue.
I went away an immediately tracked down one of Shelton's earlier works - Humpday (2009). With Joshua Leonard and (once again) Mark Duplass taking the lead, Humpday is a story about Ben and Andrew - two straight men forced to take their bromance to another level when challenged to participate in an art house amateur gay porn festival project...together. Despite sounding like a precocious Indie wet-dream (no pun intended I swear) Humpday has some genuinely moving scenes throughout. I think the film also resonated with me because at age 30 (a similar ballpark age to Humpday's characters) Humpday examines the presumptions of who you are once you reach a certain age - both on a personal level, and in the eyes of others. Beukes (2014) writes "everyone lives three versions of themselves; a public life, a private life and a secret life...we are different things to different people in different contexts" and this notion is repeatedly explored in Humpday as the arrival of Andrew after an absence of 10 years, gives himself and Ben no choice but to reflect upon how they define themselves both existentially and also within the confines of their friendship. To me it was never more poignant than when a recently married Ben tells perpetual drifter Andrew "You're not as Kerouac as you think you are...and I'm not as picket fence as you think I am".
I think I find Shelton's work so compelling because at the heart of her films are flawed yet highly engaging characters who are just trying to figure out something truthful. I completely agree with Shelton when she recently stated the qualities which drew her to direct her most recent film Say When (2014) as being ""The characters felt fleshed out, three-dimensional...I liked the fact that the humour is based on the characters, and that, tonally, there was a nice balance between the comedy and the drama...These are flawed human beings who are allowed to make mistakes, to be imperfect and fumble their way through their journey"" (Fine, 2014). And this notion of flawed characters - of flawed female characters is something that really excites me as a filmmaker. It may be 2014 but until recently I feel that men have been dominating the quarter-life crisis movie whereas, as Shelton herself comments "women - especially in manchild movies - had to be the mature ones. Boys were expected to be boys, while girls were relegated to the side-lines being sensible...Women need to be reminded that it’s fine not to have it all figured out at 28. The world will not end if you don’t get married and have a baby or know exactly where your career is going. Growing up doesn’t mean ticking things off, it means figuring out what your list might be. Don’t do things because everyone else is. Prioritise doing them right, instead" (2014). Were you talking directly to me just then Ms Shelton..? I think I'm a bigger fan-girl than I thought.
Beukes, L. (2014) Broken Monsters. London: Harper Collins
Fine, M. (2014) Nothing Lagging about Lynn Shelton [Online] Available from: [Accessed 1 December 2014]
Lewis, H. (2014) 'Laggies' Director Lynn Shelton on Connecting to Film About Growing Up Your Own Way [Online] Available from [Accessed 1 December 2014]
Rochlin, M. (2012) Scripless in Seattle: A Filmmaker's Map. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 29 November 2014]
Shelton, L. (2014) Why I like leading ladies who don't act ladylike [Online] Available from: [Accessed 30 November 2014]
Humpday. (2009) Film. Directed by Lynn Shelton [DVD] USA: Magnolia Pictures
Say When. (2014) Film. Directed by Lynn Shelton [Film] USA: A24
The Grand Budapest Hotel. (2014) Film. Directed by Wes Anderson [Film] United Kingdom-Germany: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Your Sister's Sister. (2011) Film. Directed by Lynn Shelton [DVD] USA: IFC Films
Image Source:
Figure 1. Mark Duplass and Lynn Shelton at event of Your Sister's Sister. (2011) [Photograph] Available from: [Accessed 30 November 2014]

Thursday, 13 November 2014

My Most Significant Film: It's just girl stuff

Fig 1. Lola Versus (2012)
I first watched Lola Versus (2012) last summer after I picked up a copy of the DVD at the closing down sale of my local Blockbusters. An indie "rom-com-ish movie about a woman who goes looking for herself after she's dumped the same day she tries on her wedding [Lola Versus] opened to bad numbers and worse reviews" Beckman, L. (2012). But whilst I know it's not the biggest or greatest of classics (opening on the same theatrical release date as The Dark Knight Rises (2012) was always going to be a tough sell), Lola Versus is the film I watched that made me want to write screenplays.

Starring Greta Gerwig "the Mumblequeen herself" (Ultraculture, 2012), Daniel D'Addario (2012) argues "Lola Versus is a quirky...flick with dreams of being a big, broadly appealing romantic comedy - it’s not so different from last summer’s Friends with Benefits, a big, broadly appealing romantic comedy that wanted to be quirky...Put Mila Kunis or Emma Stone in Greta Gerwig’s role, and move the setting to a backdrop more cinematic than somewhere in crypto-Downtown Manhattan or North Brooklyn, and, voila, you have a movie that pulls in upward of $30 million on opening weekend." The problem is I hated Friends with Benefits (2011) and found it to be an emotionally vapid, predictable, smug smirk of a movie (and that's just the poster). I just about made it through Bad Teacher (2011) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) where Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis were merely supporting actors but to sit through nearly two hours of their Friends with Benefits on-screen 'romance' was personally, almost unbearable - even with the advantage of being drunk when I watched it.

However, I think that compared to what the box office would suggests a lot of viewers enjoy accept when it comes to mainstream romantic comedies, the problem is I just don't believe in their themes or characters. In Kim Hudson's The Virgin Promise (2009) she notes "Jung wrote "Meaning only comes when people feel they are living the symbolic life, that they are actors in the divine drama" (Hollis, 2004, 11). This statement ties into another fundamental principal of screenwriting - audiences need a protagonist they can relate to" - and sadly I can't relate to the likes of Friends with Benefits, Friends with Kids (2011); and the particularly unwatchable Something Borrowed (2011). Lola Versus though...I just fell in love. With Lola, with her stunned heartbreak, with her passivity, with her fear of turning 30, with her messy friendships, with her bad decisions; with the film's dialogue - especially the film's dialogue. And, not just in spite of, but  for me, because of the self-indulgent journey Lola takes as the film circumnavigates over a year of her life; which is perhaps not the easiest of tasks given that the film runs at a very modest 87 minutes.

To me Lola Versus is a modern day fairy tale. Whilst there's no glass slipper, no magic mirror; no Prince Charming - as Bettelheim (1989) comments "fairy tales are centred on self-worth and selfhood...presented as stories of casual, everyday life events, which take place in the domestic realm." At the end of the Lola Versus, an unmarried and triumphantly single Lola takes time to reflect on childhood expectations with her very-unwicked-and-very-un-step-mother summarising "Remember how much I loved Cinderella as a kid? It's what messes little girls up!". Dumped three weeks before her wedding yet ultimately going on a journey of personal growth and discovery, the story told in Lola Versus represents "the process of knowing yourself  as an individual, internally and externally" (Hudson, 2009). And that's the stuff I think fairy tales and films should be made of.
No Lola Versus isn't revolutionary - and granted, lines like '""Find your spirit animal and ride it until it's dick falls off"" aren't for everybody - but they are to me. Because underneath the aching Gerwigness; the saltiness and sluttiness, the themes of Lola Versus and the way the story is told represents something complex and truthful. Dating. Human interaction. Aging. Friendship. Sex. Comparing yourself to others. Maybe themes like that are just my preference when it comes to telling a story. Maybe essentially Lola Versus is just a movie full of girlish prattle; maybe it is just "‘mumblecore “Sex and the City”'" (Uhilch, K. 2012). But, as Waldman (2014) writes:
Dating is probably the most fraught human interaction there is. You're sizing people up to see if they're worth your time and attention, and they're doing the same to you. It's meritocracy applied to personal life, but there's no accountability. We submit ourselves to these intimate inspections and simultaneously inflict them on others and try to keep our psyches intact - to keep from becoming cold and callous - and we hope that at the end we wind up happier than our grandparents, who didn't spend this vast period of their lives, those prime years, so thoroughly alone, coldly and anatomized again and again. But who cares right? It's just girl stuff. 
Beckman, L. (2012) Is Lola Versus a bad movie or are all men sexist? [Online] Available from [Accessed: 11 November 2014]

Bettelheim, B. (1989) The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Vintage Books

D'Addario, D. (2012) Lola Versus Reviewed: Mumblecore Vet Gerwig Attempts to Hold Off Stifling Script .[Online] Available from [Accessed: 11 November 2014]

Hudson, K. (2009) The Virgin's Promise. California: Michael Wiese Productions

Uhlich, K. (2012) Lola Versus. [Online] Available from [Accessed: 13 November 2014]

Ultraculture (2012) This month in Gerwig: Lola Versus. [Online] Available from [Accessed: 11 November 2014]
Waldman, A. (2014) The Love Affairs of Nathanial P. London : Windmill Books

Bad Teacher. (2011) Film. Directed by Jake Kasdan. [DVD] USA: Columbia Pictures

Friends with Benefits. (2011) Film. Directed by Will Gluck. [DVD] USA: Sony

Forgetting Sarah Marshall. (2008) Film. Directed by Nicholas Stoller. [DVD] USA: Universal

Lola Versus. (2012) Film. Directed by Daryl Wein. [DVD] USA: Groundswell Productions and Fox Searchlight Pictures

Something Borrowed. (2011). Film. Directed by Luke Greenfield. [DVD] USA: Warner Bros

The Dark Knight Rises. (2012) Film. Directed by Chris Nolan. [DVD] USA: Warner Bros
Image Source:
Figure 1. Lola Versus. (2011) [Poster] Available from: [Accessed: 12 November 2014]