The National Post spoke with director Pavan Moondi and producer Brian Robertson — who also helped found the Toronto-based video magazine The Seventh Art — about making the little things have big resonance, the problem with “first-world problems” and capturing aimless youth.
So, simply enough: where did this story come from?
Ironically, it was originally conceived as a television series and then just kind of kept changing mediums over the last three or four years. The impetus was the realization that there was no Canadian television, scripted narrative comedy specifically, directed at me or my friends — essentially people in their 20s. But I’m interested in low-concept, character-driven comedy. People that hopefully feel real dealing with the kinds of problems that people really encounter at this time in their lives.
The funny is thing is that there’s now a show on Canadian TV that actually has the exact same premise as our film. The encouraging thing was that when we saw that show and how horrible it was, it was a reminder that it really is all about the approach and the process and not necessarily the concept or the premise. People in their 20s aren’t dying to see characters in their 20s unless it’s handled in an honest way.
This feels like a film of minor-key moments: there aren’t necessarily any big revelations or huge dramatic clashes. What attracts you to those minor key moments, and made you want to make a film out of them?
You know, people don’t usually express the big things that really matter. And when they finally do muster up the guts to do it, it almost never works out the way they hoped it would. And so the film is light on those ‘big’ moments, but when they happen, they deliberately have kind of an anti-climactic result. I think if you’re trying to make something people can relate to, you need to focus on those minor-key moments because those are what populate most people’s lives. That’s not to say ‘drama’ isn’t good or necessary, but having a lot of small moments makes those ‘big’ moments feel bigger, even if they’re relatively small — buying your fiancee a pizza isn’t exactly meeting someone atop the Eiffel Tower.
How do you pick the right small moments? If you’re going for big drama, the choices are kind of obvious, maybe. What’s the key to getting a good quiet moment?
It’s difficult. We thought this film is ultimately about the friendship between these characters and so those minor-key moments needed to be populated with those relationships. I don’t know if we have a lot of quiet moments, but we have a lot of seemingly mundane moments that are intended to hopefully communicate something in the subtext — [such as] people lying about their true feelings.
Everyday is Like Sunday is, of course, a Morrissey reference, and that kind of mood definitely hangs over the film. I’m wondering, though, what do you think it says about this space between youth and adulthood that it’s been the de facto mode of 20somethings for, what, 30, 40 years? There’s a tendency to ascribe these mindsets to modern issues but to what extent, do you think, is ennui the natural state of the young, educated urbanite?
I think where modern issues have had an impact is that the period of aimlessness is lasting longer.
Right. I think it is lasting later into your 30s now for a lot of people. Just because it’s so much more difficult to make a living doing what you love to do. I mean, technological evolution and the democratization of culture has made it much, much more difficult to make a living as a musician, or a filmmaker, than it was 10 or 15 years ago.
As for why it’s stuck around for so long — those internal problems don’t change. If you look at how life and more broadly society, has changed in the last three decades, it’s mostly tied to the consumption and development of material goods. We have fancier gadgets and bigger TVs but that stuff doesn’t really have anything to do with feeling happy and fulfilled. The things that matter haven’t changed. … There’s a bit of a backlash, and it’s been more present ever since Girls came to the surface and everything has seemingly become about millennials — this idea of first world problems. That if you’re struggling for a creative life, or for a life where you can just find something to do that fulfills you in some way—- that you should just shut up and be glad you have a roof over your head and go ‘get a job’. We’re not trying to do that. We’re saying that it’s okay. It’s okay to feel a weight on your shoulders because your life isn’t turning out the way you expected it would. It’s your life and life can be a struggle, and you’re entitled to feel however you want to.
Why do you think people lack a certain empathy for those problems? I mean, I understand if it’s like someone growing up in a favela in Sao Paolo, or something, but presumably the people with these complaints are in a similar socioeconomic bracket as the youth they’re complaining about, and may have felt something similar: Why are these kinds of problems so easy to dismiss, do you think?
I think when you’re in your twenties, late twenties especially, you can feel the window closing, and that’s why there’s a weight. You can feel the possibilities diminishing. I think part of that, especially now, is the result of having a view of what everybody else around your age are doing — often leading very adult, seemingly fulfilled lives. I can’t really tell you what possesses someone to dismiss somebody else’s problems. I remember reading an article recently about the drinking ban in Trinity Bellwoods, and the comment section was just filled with supposedly professional thirty and fortysomethings just spewing the most non-sensical, ill-informed hatred directed at people trying to pursue something they’re passionate about. It’s interesting to me that people really celebrate those who have achieved their dreams, but there seems to be a broad dismissiveness towards people who are trying but just haven’t gotten there yet. … It feels like I’ve gone way off track here.
To go back, then, what’s the cure for that weight? Are they all just sort of stuck like this? The structure of the film kind of implies that nothing really changes so much as our view of it — is that a fair read?
[Spoilers] I think the cure is just to find some way to get yourself on the right track, work hard, and have some hope. And that’s kind of where we leave things. I think every character is better off than where we begin, even though that might not be immediately clear — giving the characters small victories, maybe very small depending on how you look at it, was important. Mark starts the film waking up intent on turning his life around but it becomes clear that he’s not ready, and the film is him sort of getting to that point. You know, Jason and Flora, I think are better off than where we leave them. They become a bit less dependent on each other, not living together anymore, and it allows Jason to work on getting his act together without compromising their relationship.
Source: National Post