Monday, July 14, 2008

Making Movies With Your Friends

‘Kiss the Bride’ (director, C. Jay Cox)
Next Screening: Sunday, July 20, 18:15 – Spiral Hall, with special guests in attendance: C. Jay Cox (director), Philipp Karner & James O’Shea (lead actors)

On opening night, a musical fantasy helped us to appreciate the full meaning of Shakespeare’s line: “The course of true love never did run smooth.” The following day, director C. Jay Cox’s ‘Kiss the Bride’ shed further light – this time in the form of a romantic comedy – on the same truism, though from an acutely different angle.

Romantic comedies entertain us precisely because we know what to expect. A couple will fall in love, they will run into a number of obstacles and seem in danger of losing that love, but by the end they will be happily reconciled, and usually married. It worked for Jane Austen 200 years ago, and it works in Hollywood today – and anywhere else people still want to believe that ‘love conquers all’.

Cox’s film (written by Tyler Lieberman) begins with a zany premise that puts its characters on a collision course that promises all manner of hilarity – a gay man goes back to his home town to break up the wedding of his first boyfriend, who has obviously lost his mind, as he is about to marry a woman! But it cleverly takes that slightly outrageous twist on a stock premise (the film repeatedly and self-consciously acknowledges its debt to the late-90s Julia Roberts/Cameron Diaz hit ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’) and treats each character with such equal sympathy that by the middle of the film we have lost all confidence in our ability to predict the ending. The film manages to reaffirm the value of romantic love, even as it raises interesting questions about the value of marriage (for straight people as much as for gays), while troubling our binary notions of sexuality – all while keeping us entertained and unsure of what is coming next!

That’s no small feat for a film with an essentially mainstream, commercial sensibility. But it’s this ability to deliver the unexpected within an otherwise familiar and comfortable package that has made C. Jay Cox both a successful screenwriter who is able to work within the Hollywood system, and a successful director crafting queer stories that delight and provoke just inside the commercially viable edge of that same system.

To the delight of our audience, C. Jay joined our programming director, Sugawara-san, on-stage after the screening for a Q & A session.

Sugawara: I have a lot of questions. First, of course, is – is this your first visit to Japan?

C. Jay: Yes, I’ve never been before.

Sugawara: When did you arrive?

C. Jay: I got in yesterday afternoon.

Sugawara: Do you have any impressions of Tokyo from your first night here?

C. Jay: You know, it’s so busy, and yet so friendly. I sort of expected to be overwhelmed and out of my element but it’s been really fun and easy so far.

Sugawara: Well, on behalf of the festival, welcome to Japan. To start off, let’s talk about your last film, ‘Latter Days.’ There is a lot of angst in that film, would you agree?

C. Jay: Yes, certainly. It was written from a very personal place, and making that film was at times a really wrenching experience for me.

Sugawara: For those of you who haven’t seen it, it deals with the Mormon religion in the United States, which forbids homosexuality, and it’s a love story that deals with a young Mormon who discovers his [homo]sexuality.

Today’s film, ‘Kiss the Bride’, is of a different kind. It’s a romantic comedy. Was there a particular reason you wanted to make this kind of a film?

C. Jay: One reason is that during the making of ‘Latter Days’ it was a very joyful experience but it was also painful in a lot of ways. So we joked that our next project would have to be one we could have some fun with.

Sugawara: Could you talk a little bit about how you went about casting the film?

C. Jay: Our two leads are Philipp Karner and James O’Shea – who will both be here next week for the second screening of the film.

Sugawara: [To the audience] So if you have a chance to come and see them next week, please do.

C. Jay: Yeah, so they both read for the parts they ultimately played in the film about five months before we started shooting. We kept looking at other actors. About forty to sixty more auditioned. But Philip and James just kept rising to the top through that process.

Sugawara: What about Tori Spelling? How did she get involved in the project?

C. Jay: Tori and I were actually on the same flight to Miami. She and her husband were sitting behind me. He also appears in the film, by the way. He’s the plumber [i.e. stripper!]. I couldn’t help eavesdropping on their conversation, and as she was talking I just felt that I was hearing the voice of Alex [Tori’s character] that I had been hearing all those months as we were getting ready to shoot the film.

Sugawara: This question may or may not be appropriate – was she pregnant during the shooting?

C. Jay: Yeah, she was. When we first met in a coffee shop to talk about the film, there was all this paparazzi following her. There were rumours circulating that she was pregnant. Two months later, when she arrived to begin shooting, she was really pregnant! So we had to keep putting stuff in front of her to hide it in the film.

Sugawara: Usually, in films, there is this pattern that a character who is gay is gay, and someone who is straight is straight. But in this film it is more complicated.

C. Jay: One of the things that really appealed to me about this script is that it calls into question the firm boundaries that we like to draw around each other. In L.A., it can be very rigid. People know who is gay, and like to think that everyone else is probably gay! In the film, Matt [the ex-boyfriend] is dead sure about Ryan [the one about to marry Alex, played by Tori Spelling]. But then he shows up and he is not so sure. He also has an unexpected reaction to Tori’s character. I really liked that about the script, that it’s not so clear-cut.

Sugawara: We have some time for questions from the audience.

1st audience member: I’m a fan of ‘Latter Days’ and today’s film as well. Will it be available in Japan on DVD?

C. Jay: Arigato. I believe it will be out on DVD in the U.S. in October. I don’t think it is scheduled for a theatrical release in Japan, but certainly you will be able to get it on DVD.

2nd audience member: I have two comments. I really love romantic comedies, and this one had a flavour of romantic comedies from the 80s and 90s, so I really enjoyed that. I also really liked seeing Joanna Cassidy and Robert Foxworth, from ‘Six Feet Under’, so thank you for casting them in this film.

C. Jay: Yeah, it’s funny because Joanna and Robert have actually played a married couple three times in their careers!

3rd audience member: In the very last scene, Matt makes a phone call to Joey, the boyfriend that he is in the process of breaking up with. Do you think that they will get back together?

C. Jay: We certainly left that door open. You know, he gets the answering machine, so we don’t know how Joey will respond. Maybe he takes him back and maybe he doesn’t. But, yeah, we like to think that it might end with them getting back together.

Sugawara: The actor who played Matt’s boyfriend [Charlie David] has also appeared in the gay film ‘A Four Letter Word’, which is not such a nice role!

C. Jay: Yeah. He’s also on the TV series ‘Dante’s Cove’, and he will be in the film ‘Mulligans’ which will be premiering at Outfest in Los Angeles.

4th audience member: I’m a big fan of ‘Latter Days’. I noticed that one of the actors from that film, Steve Sandvoss, also play’s Ryan’s friend Chris in this film. Why did you choose him for this role?

C. Jay: I’ve always said that my goal is to make movies with my friends. I started out my career with several friends, like my director of photography, and people that I didn’t know became friends through the process of working with them. Steve is one of those people. He’s just become part of the family, and that family keeps growing with each film I make. This role is a huge departure for him. ‘Latter Days’ was actually his first role, so he wanted to do something very different in this one.

Another member of the family is the actress that plays the character Monica – Elizabeth Kell – is Steve’s brother’s girlfriend. So, we just love making movies with our friends.

5th audience member: Thank you for the wonderful movie. Was there any particular line or piece of dialogue that you are most fond of? There are a lot of great lines in the film.

C. Jay: I like the scene where Alex tells the story about being a kid and using a word that she and her friends didn’t realize was slang for vagina, and then talking to Matt about the wedding dress, and the confusion of offering to show it to him, and Matt thinks she means her vagina! That bit always amuses me.

Sugawara: Could you talk a little about your future plans? What projects do you have in the works?

C. Jay: There is a movie that I wrote, ‘Chilled in Miami’, starring Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr., coming out in the U.S. in January. I am also working on a film called ‘Three’ that I wrote and am directing.

Sugawara: Are these gay-themed films?

C. Jay: No. ‘Chilled in Miami’ is a big studio movie. The other one [‘Three’] is about a straight housewife living in a trailer. The idea that I started with was a married woman in a trailer park who finds a genie [so ‘three’ is a reference to genie’s three wishes].

Sugawara: Thank you so much for talking with us. And, again, if you are able to join us next week, please come to the second screening of ‘Kiss the Bride’ with the lead actors, Philipp Karner and James O’Shea.

Soon to follow: My interview with director C. Jay Cox...

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