Monday, October 26, 2015

A quick Q&A with the stars of APARTMENT TROUBLES: Jennifer Prediger and Jess Weixler

If you follow TrustMovies regularly, yes, you've already seen the below post. But as Apartment Troubles is one of those little movies that has gone straight to video, it's likely to get lost in the shuffle. And that's too bad because it has much to recommend. And since, post-viewing, I had the opportunity to chat via phone with its two stars/writers/ directors -- Jennifer Prediger and Jess Weixler -- it seems like a good idea to post again, this time including as much of the interview as time and memory permits. (My typing skills, never very good, are definitely lessening with age, and although I thought I understood how to record via my new SmartPhone, I obviously did not, so score another point for technology in the ongoing struggle for comprehension by us senior citizens.)

Though I've seen Ms Prediger in several movies, especially Joe Swanberg's Uncle Kent, this one actually set me to wanting to remember her. I've been a long-time fan of Ms. Weixler since The Big Bad Swim, Teeth, Alexander the Last, Peter and Vandy and many other movies. So here again, is that review of Apartment Troubles, followed by a short Q&A with the young ladies.


OK: The movie's a mess. But, gheesh, it's sort of an endearing mess -- funny in odd ways rather than the expected, and as ditsy, charming and irritating as its two leading ladies, Jennifer Prediger and Jess Weixler, who also wrote and directed the film. You might call this a "vanity production," except that the filmmakers are as apt to show their worst sides as their better ones. Also, they do have a bundle of talent, even if it's oddball rather than mainstream.

Ms Prediger (shown at right) and Ms Weixler (below) both have a barrel of indie-film credits (Weixler has 37, Prediger 22) so they've been around the block a few times. Here, they take a well-known fact of life these days (nobody except the very wealthy can afford an apartment in New York City or its environs) and use it a leaping-off point for their adventures -- which prove to be a kind of first-class road trip to Los Angeles and back again.

That their film lasts only 77 minutes is probably wise, and the fact that it ends on a strange, lovely
and appealing note will send any Chekhov lovers in the audience levitating in a state of grace. The Russian master and his work figure in this film a couple of times and in major ways -- firstly in a weird piece of performance art that the two girls, Nicole (Weixler) and Olivia (Prediger) decide to act out on a kind of America's Got Talent TV show. It's a odd homage to Anton Chekhov and his play, The Seagull, in both the kind of amateur theater production it appears to be imitating and in its use of some of the dialog from the play. What's more, these lines appear again at film's end, this time performed by Weixler in what is the most beautiful rendering of them--visual and verbal--I've yet seen/heard.

I am guessing either or both of these actresses did Chekhov in high school or drama school and probably fell in love with him and his creation, Nina, from The Seagull. In any case, the movie's use of these few lines at the finale gives it a strange and slightly Armageddon-like quality, which is probably not amiss in our current times (just as it would not have been in Chekhov's own).

Also in the cast are three more noted and popular performers who were somehow corralled into joining the cast, which proves all to the good. Jeffrey Tambor -- shown above, right, and currently riding and definitely adding to the heights of Transparent (the double meaning of this terrific title word only became apparent to me as I typed it now). Tambor plays the girls' odd landlord (everything and everybody in this movie is odd), who for some reason enjoys showering in their apartment but is not happy about their consistently tardy and under-market rent payments.

Once they arrive in Los Angeles, they're given a lift by an even odder character played by Will Forte (above, right), who appears again toward the end to goose the movie into a kind of "full circle" thing. Forte is fresh and funny (and real), as usual.

But it is Megan Mullally (above, left) as Nicole's odd aunt, who gives the movie a consistent lift. Clearly sexually attracted to Olivia, as well as wanting to help the pair, she simply can't keep her hands to herself, making Prediger's character as uncomfortable as it makes us viewers amused. (That Mullally and Prediger could pass for mother and daughter adds a soupçon of further naughtiness to the proceedings.)

And that's pretty much it: They come to L.A., they do silly things, and then they leave again for NYC. But beneath the veneer lies longing and frustration of artists and women who cannot express themselves and be heard, so the expression comes out in, yes, odd ways. In a sense, both these young women are Ninas -- but let's hope as in the earlier, rather than the later, portion of Chekhov's play.

Prediger, looking like a lost little girl struggling to grow up, has a lovely, true and dulcet singing voice, which we hear only haphazardly at the aunt's dinner party. I'd like to hear it again.

Weixler, whom I have in the past compared to a young Meryl Streep, here looks more like the youthful and oddly beautiful Bette Davis. The actress has an edge that she knows how to use, as well, and she does so quite purposefully here.

If it sounds like I am raving about this strange little mistake of a movie, well, so be it. It certainly will not prove to be to most audiences' tastes. But for those willing to take a chance, or who love Chekhov, or enjoy any of all of the performers mentioned above, it is worth that chance. As a whole, it may go right by you, but certain little scenes, I swear, you'll remember for quite some time (particularly if you're a cat person).

Apartment Troubles, from Anchor Bay Entertainment and Gravitas Ventures, will appear on DVD Tuesday, October 6, for purchase or rental. One hopes it will soon become available digitally, as well.

TrustMovies:  How and why did you do this movie? Have you known Jess Weixler for a long time?

Jennifer Prediger: It's really "small world" stuff. She rented my apartment when she had to be here in New York doing The Good Wife for awhile, and then three months later, here we are writing a movie together!

TM: I know you've worked with Joe Swanberg, but I don’t see Apaprtment Troubles as anything like mumblecore.

JP: I learned a lot from watching Joe work. He doesn’t suffer, he just makes it happen -- I’m a big sufferer as a writer -- but Joe creates an outline, gets his group of actors together, and they improvise it. For our movie, we wanted something more structured. I’d say 85 per cent is structured and 15 improvised.

TM: Are you a Chekhov fan? Because Anton figures pretty heavily in your movie.

JP: It’s funny. My actual cat was named Pigeon, and, like the cat in the movie, he actually died while we were working on the movie, so he became a real part of the movie. He had a heart attack, and my producer and Jess had to get him to the vet with me. So for the new cat in the movie – I came up with the name Seagull. We were thinking of some kind of performance piece, and I had written something about how you could figure out your approximate death date. We wanted to add something to that or like that. Jess had been in The Seagull and had played Nina a couple of times. So we inserted one of the speeches, and it all came together somehow.

TM: I thought there was something smart and thoughtful to it all, kind of philosophical in nature. By the way, I loved your singing in the movie. You have such a true, clear voice. Have you sung professionally?

JP: No, but my "secret" profession is that I would have loved to be to be a jazz singer. But of course I don't do that -- except when I am a little drunk at a karaoke bar. I am always intrigued when people find their own special meaning in things and find strange things in creative work. What else did you find that seemed special in the movie?

TM: A lot, really. My favorite thing was your use of Chekhov. But my spouse, who watched the film with me, loved the scene just before your appearance on the "talent" show, where you two come up against the other pair of girls who sort of act as "doubles" for you -- just a little younger and more "mainstream." He thought the two seemed like your counterparts in some alternate universe, and he found the scene fun and very funny, too.

JP: Thanks! You know: That scene was hard for us – because we had to get to a place where we could attack the girls. But the two girls were just so nice, so lovely, that we found this really difficult to do.


TrustMovies: I found your film a very interesting and encouraging start for you as writers and directors. Will you write and direct again?

Jess Weixler:  Yes, I sure hope so.

TM: Are you working on something now.

JW: Well, both Jenn and I were writing about our fathers, so maybe something will happen with that.

TM: Jennifer said that you two really hit it off from the first.

JW: Yes -- we got along so well right away. And she had some friends with some money who told us, "If you have a script that we like. we'll produce it." So it just sort of worked out.

TM: I am particularly interested in the Chekhov connection to your film. Tell me about that.

JW: I'm so glad you noticed that! I was lucky in that I went to Julliard, and so I had the chance to do the classics. And I think that the character of Nina is, for women, like Hamlet is for guys: a role to treasure, and everyone wants to play it.

TM: I'd never thought about it in that way before, but I'll bet you're right.

JW: I think it all came about because both Jennifer and I love the movie Withnail and I.

TM: Yes, that is a good one -- and certainly an original of sorts.

JW: We wanted to do a kind of homage to Withnail and I because it's so funny, but it's also such a great story about about people, and about such unusual characters.. At the end of Withnail, they do the Hamlet speech, and we thought, let’s do something like that, but using Chekhov.

TM: Ah...  I get it. It's done first in that wonderful scene where Jennifer does the audition for the American Idol-like show. And then again to wrap up the film. I have to say that, in all the times I've seen The Seagull performed, I've never heard that particular speech done as beautifully as you do it. You made the words sound not just meaningful but somehow even timely, too!

JW: Wow. Thank you. You've made my day.

TM: Well, your rendition of that speech certainly made mine!

JW: What we really hope is that, for anyone who hasn’t already seen Withnail and I , maybe our movie will send them there. 


MarcioWilges said...

It was almost painful reading the description and you weren't kidding when you said that the film is moving all over the place. I'm pretty sure that they didn't make any money from the making of the movie at all!

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for commenting, Marcio. And yes, I doubt that they did make money from this movie. But even as a learning experience for the filmmakers and/or the audience), the movie does have it odd charms. And some very good/funny performances.