With Drinking Buddies and Happy Christmas, director Joe Swanberg has made two critical darlings featuring well-rounded female protagonists in arrested development. Asked about the “female manchild,” Swanberg attributed that kind of character’s relative novelty to the fact that “men are out of ideas” in Hollywood:
“I suspect we’re on the cusp of a time where women’s roles in the entertainment industry are about to get a lot bigger. My feeling is, and this is a little grandiose, that men are out of ideas. We need women to step up in a big way over the next ten years or we’re fucked culturally. We see what’s happening right now, which is that we’re just remaking, rebooting and re-franchising everything. That’s because we’re out of ideas. So if anybody is bringing new ideas to the table, they are really valuable right at this moment. Lena Dunham is obviously bringing a lot of new ideas to the table, which is why people are responding to that in a big way.”
Unfortunately, he doesn’t speak about the industry barriers that female filmmakers face when they attempt to “step up in a big way.” (Then again, Swanberg is the type of ultra-low-budget director who made eleven features in three years.) However, he’s not completely oblivious to the issues that stall many women’s careers:
“I was going out into the world in this attempt to provide, and [my wife Kris Williams] was having a really weird identity thing happening at home. She’s also a filmmaker, but suddenly when people asked what she did, stay-at-home mom had to be added to the descriptor. I don’t think she ever thought those words would come out of her mouth. It was sort of a trip.”
Swanberg reveals he used discussions between himself and and his wife about her ambivalent thoughts on motherhood as inspiration for Happy Christmas:
“A lot of Happy Christmas came out of conversations my wife and I had about her own identity issues when she became a mom. It’s very hard for women, and it’s not talked about at all. So a lot of the impetus for making Happy Christmas was just to get that conversation on screen. It’s almost as if the movie’s framework is built around the chance for [Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey’s characters, who play sisters-in-law] to have that conversation. To air those feelings. I don’t know that I’ve seen that kind of conversation before. … Isn’t it shocking that in 2014, there’s a movie where nobody can remember ever seeing a mom talk about the frustrations and pleasures of having a kid and being a mom?”
Actually, the Julie Delpy co-penned Before Midnight does exactly that, but Swanberg does have a great point — it’s not a conversation we hear often enough. Hopefully we can hear Williams’ take on her own experiences soon.