"Strong Women"

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An Interview with Emily Wachtel and Megan Griffiths on Lucky Them

At noon, I entered the Royal York hotel to meet Emily Wachtel, the writer, and Megan Griffiths, the director, of Lucky Them. The film follows a rock journalist (Toni Collette) in Seattle who is assigned to find her ex-boyfriend, a musician who went missing a decade earlier. The film is produced by Mymy Productions in association with Tangerine Entertainment, which produces films by female directors. Recently, IFC Films has acquired U.S. rights to Lucky Them. When I found Emily and Megan, they welcomed me warmly, and while speaking with them, I tried to further define what it meant to be a “feminist filmmaker.”

—Julia Edelman

THE BELIEVER: So why did you choose to set the film in Seattle?

MEGAN GRIFFITHS: It was originally set in New York, but it has a long history. One of the first conversations we had was what would happen if we changed the backdrop to Seattle. And it just seemed to make sense because it’s a town that’s known for its music scene, specifically grunge in the early nineties.

BLVR: Do you think that being removed from concentrated film scenes in New York and L.A. made it harder or easier to make the film?

MG: I think I established such a good team there that it was nothing but easier to make it in Seattle. 

EMILY WACHTEL: I know it’s way easier than it would have been in New York.  

BLVR: Yeah, definitely. So this film stars, is directed, and written by women, but what do you think essentially constitutes a feminist film?

MG: That’s a tough question. I think feminism to me is the idea that women are equally important and their stories are equally important and just as entertaining. It’s difficult to make a movie about a complicated, non-traditional female character, and this movie is definitively that. Toni’s character is not conventional; she’s not married, she doesn’t seem to want kids, and it is a different lifestyle. We see a lot more movies with male characters who are at that point in their lives, but not that many about females.

EW: I don’t think in terms of feminist and not feminist, but I will say in a weird way, this movie is like a female bromance. The relationship between her and Charlie is a friendship, so it’s kind of a different spin.

MG: The goal is not to ride off into the sunset with the knight; it’s to free herself to move forward.

EW: But it’s so funny, I think of films in terms of art, not whether it’s feminist or not feminist. I know that it’s harder for women in film, but I feel like it’s getting less and less hard.

BLVR: It’s an interesting term. When you call something a “feminist film,” it can also be isolating in a sense.

EW: Yeah, I don’t want to put it in a box.

BLVR: I don’t like to use the term too loosely either, but it’s something I constantly think about. Does a feminist film just need to have a female writer and director? Or does the protagonist of the film need to be a non-traditional female character?

MG: For me, it’s more about the take-away of the movie than any of that. If I walk away from the movie feeling like I’ve been given a message that I don’t feel should be reinforced, that’s what offends me. Sometimes I’ll walk away from a movie and think, “Great. So that is supposed to tell me that strong women are bad.” That kind of thing, I’m not particularly keen on, but it doesn’t have to have a particularly triumphant woman that’s going to save the world either.

EW: I will say one thing, personally, that I’ve noticed. Since I got involved with making this, people will comment, “Oh, you’re a strong woman, you’re so strong.” People ever tell you that?

MG: I get that a lot.

EW: Yeah, so I never heard the expression, “A strong man,” unless somebody was in the gym lifting a heavy barbell. Why is there a difference between being an ambitious, driven woman or passionate woman and a passionate man? That is something that has come up a lot. I just think: Why do you use that word? And is that an insult or a compliment? I can’t bench that much. [Laughs] But I’m getting better.

BLVR: In Lucky Them, there’s this theme of mythologizing characters, and having these memories of people seem more profound than the actual experience of them. Do you think that is also true of the film form itself?  

EW: Absolutely. I had a therapist once say about somebody I was dating, “You think he’s an actor on the screen, You’re mad that he’s not saying the lines you want him to say.”

MG: We spend the entire movie building up the character of Matthew, and his fan base and Ellie have made him into this larger than life personality, and then the actor who plays the character has that as well, as an actor. There’s that expectation of who he would be to them, and I think that helps the scene.

BLVR: Do you think you tend to do this more as an artist, as we see with Toni Collette’s character? 

EW: Yes, because as an artist you’re here, and you always want to be there. If you don’t have a dream as an artist, you shouldn’t be an artist, because you should be working towards something and trying to reach that always, whatever that is. You’re a writer, so you would know, right? You obviously have things you want to do, and you need to work towards that, otherwise why keep going? You need to have something to look forward to. I also have a theory that for people that are in the arts, it’s not a choice. I think the people that fall into it fall in for a reason, and the people that stick around and plough their way through, like myself, they can’t live any other way. There’s nothing else for them. It’s not a choice. You have to do it.