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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.
 
 
Bibliography:
Beukes, L. (2014) Broken Monsters. London: Harper Collins
 
Fine, M. (2014) Nothing Lagging about Lynn Shelton [Online] Available from: http://hollywoodandfine.com/nothing-lagging-about-lynn-shelton-and-laggies/ [Accessed 1 December 2014]
 
Lewis, H. (2014) 'Laggies' Director Lynn Shelton on Connecting to Film About Growing Up Your Own Way [Online] Available from http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/laggies-director-lynn-shelton-connecting-743955 [Accessed 1 December 2014]
 
Rochlin, M. (2012) Scripless in Seattle: A Filmmaker's Map. [Online] Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/movies/lynn-shelton-director-of-your-sisters-sister.html?pagewanted=all [Accessed 29 November 2014]
 
Shelton, L. (2014) Why I like leading ladies who don't act ladylike [Online] Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2014/nov/06/women-sympathetic-movies-lynn-shelton-say-when-laggies [Accessed 30 November 2014]
 
Filmography:
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: http://www.movpins.com/dHQxNzQyMzM2/your-sister/still-3033116828 [Accessed 30 November 2014]