Last week I had the privilege of chatting over the phone with Lisa Cholodenko the writer/director of one of my favorite films of the year The Kids Are All Right. The film perfectly balances the humor and drama of a real life relationship in a rather complicated situation with the help of the stellar cast of Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson. The film is much smarter than most films of its kind and it makes the mundane parts of life are suddenly interesting and fun to watch. It’s a twist on the usual and extremely well executed from the script to the final presentation.
Check out the interview below…
What originally inspired you to make the film? What was your goal for the film going into it?
Lisa Cholodenko: I think our goal going into it was to take themes that were very specific to our lives, and personal to us, and find a way to express them that was more universal and to be accessible to anybody watching it, regardless of your sexuality, or age, or gender. I think also one of the goals, in Stuart and I coming together, was to blend kind of more auteur filmmaking, more personal filmmaking, with more commercial filmmaking and find a voice that was more comedic with the genre.
Do you feel like this is a Romantic Comedy? Do you feel like that is an accurate statement?
LC: Yeah I do! I mean I feel like it is many things. It’s kind of a multi-genre film, but I do feel like it has elements of romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and domestic comedy. All those things. I think within each of those genres, there are other genres. Yeah, it has romantic comedy elements for sure.
There was a very realistic feel between the people and the couples in this film, more so than in most films, how did you get that?
LC: Well we spent a long time writing and I think that a lot of the heart worked and how they would relate to each other came out of all the drafts of the script that we did. So it was largely on the page, and then there was a lot of attention paid to casting – making sure the casting was right. I spent several years going over and over different pairings of who would play this couple and it was a bit of a painstaking process. Once we got to the set, I was really confident that all the stuff was on the page and I had the right people playing the parts. At that point, I felt my job was to make everybody feel as comfortable and confident as possible to be able to put this stuff on the screen.
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are amazing, what was it like working with them?
LC: It’s great working with them! They’re funny and they’re spicy and, you know, I think they were really motivated to bring this story to life in all the right ways. We were all on the same page. There was a nice chemistry between Annette and Mark and Julianne, which was great, as well the kids. I didn’t have to do a lot of maneuvering or muscling to get them to feel like a whole family. That was great.
Can you talk about casting Mia? She did this film before people really knew her from Alice in Wonderland, right?
LC: I believe she had just wrapped that film. I hadn’t seen any of it, but I knew that she had just worked on it and they were cutting it. I was just familiar with her from In Treatment, that HBO show. She was on her way to bigger and bigger movies, but I was not exposed to that.
Well the timing worked out quite well! She was perfect for the film and getting recognized in her roles.
LC: Yeah! The timing was great! You know, what I think is wonderful about Mia is that she is the real deal. I mean, I wasn’t familiar with her, so I asked her to put herself on tape – she was in Australia and sent it from there – I was just really taken with that type of ? quality that some actors have. I just found her incredibly compelling and fresh and she sort of deserves her “It” girlness.
Do you improv on the set?
LC: I don’t improv on set just because we didn’t have any time to improv. So, the script was kind of set and ready to go. It was a 23-day shoot. But that said, once we are rolling and the scenes are coming together, I’ll keep rolling if the actors are going off in a direction that wasn’t scripted and I think it’s working or it’s funny. There are a lot of those moments that I kept in the film because these are great actors and they had great instincts about the characters.
The couple in this film is not so different from any other couple. It is beautiful, just like any loving couple. Do you think the film’s female couple might have problems reaching mainstream audiences? Are you hoping that it is just as easily accepted as other films?
LC: We were pretty careful to present the two mom family concept in a way that was just completely acceptable, average and familiar. I think my hope and my intent is that people are going to respond to it exactly how we hoped they would, which is that it’s not such a difference from their own family. Straight, gay, mixed, whatever. So if there is anything political in the film, it’s really that idea that we are going to show you this thing and not, you know, give it a lot of political hype and that will help you understand how totally normal it is.
Did you think it was important to show people that this is a real family, that there is something really different about having two same sex parents?
LC: Yeah. There are these families living in every city across the land. It is not so rarefied, it’s not so special, and at the end of the day everyone has the same issues and problems. Marriages endure the same ups and downs and kids have to break away from their families and their parents, you know, go off to college. All these things! We felt like that was what was rich and kind of fun and funny and worthy in the film.
We worked hard in the script to be just a-political, you know, just a family going through their stuff. Yeah, there are certain education, class, and social-economic class and whatnot, but they have got the same issues that almost any other family would have.
What is your idea of what makes a film great? And how do you go about throughout the process to make your film great every step of the way?
LC: Well I really do think that with these types of films it starts with the script and not getting up on the screenplay until you think you’ve nailed it, and that it works as a whole, and every character makes sense. There is kind of a checklist of things that keep a script feeling fresh and vital and cohesive. It’s a hard journey to get that done, so that’s a biggy. I think casting and being just tireless and holding out for the right cast – the right people to play the parts; though, all the while, being flexible and being open to other ideas that might not have occurred along the way, and being open to things that are fresh and come from another source. Then, you know, it’s really just the same thing – just pushing, pushing, pushing till you feel like you found the right person to shoot this film. Oh, I found the right person to design this film and really not compromising. That’s the word I’m looking for. Just not compromising and I know when I am. I know when I’m getting lazy and certainly didn’t get lazy with this one.
The Kids Are All Right will be in theaters July 9th!