Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!
I just watched the final season of “Shrill” on Hulu.
It took me back to March of 2019 when the series was launching and Executive Producer Elizabeth Banks and star Aidy Bryant came to SXSW with a panel that included the woman, Lindy West, who wrote the book on which the series was based. I sat right behind Ms. Banks during the introduction and then she moved to the stage following the showing of one episode for the Q&A.
Aidy Bryant of “SNL” played the lead role of Annie Easton, a writer for the fictional “Thorn” newspaper where she interacted with Boss Gabe Parrish (John Cameron Mitchell), and Ian Owens as Amadi. The 22 episodes that I’ve watched followed the plight of an overweight single woman in today’s dating scene. We didn’t get to see as much of Aidy on “SNL” because of her involvement in this show, but that will, hopefully, end with the series finale.
Annie (Aidy) lives with her college friend Fran (Lolly Adefope), who is a Black Nigerian lesbian who grew up in London, and, for most of the series she dates Ryan (Luka Jones) who was replaced in the show’s final episodes by a new more promising boyfriend named Will (Cameron Britton).
Elizabeth Banks (l) and Lindy West (R) onstage at SXSW in 2019, lauching “Shrill.”
Ryan made it through 16 episodes as the sadly tone-deaf boyfriend, while the Will character only made it through 4 episodes before he became hopelessly pissed off that Annie went to the coffee shop where Will’s ex-wife worked, just to see what her new boyfriend’s ex looked like. After all, Will and his ex-wife met at age 15 and she was the only girl he had ever been with, whereas Annie is seen jumping in and out of bed with a variety of swains, including a really depressing deflowering experience at an “Oklahoma” cast after-party, where the prop manager of the play offered to “do” Annie, since she was the only one in their circle who was a virgin.
Most of the show wants to be striking a blow against fat-shaming. There’s the episode where Annie’s doctor mentions that she could opt for stomach stapling and Annie reacts with a great deal of profanity and unpleasantness. There’s the episode that is a pool party with a bevy of Big Beauties who are lesbian. The show also wants to come down firmly on the side of lesbian love and there is definitely a strong message for mothers of girls with a weight problem that harping on the problem and putting their daughter on diet after diet isn’t the right approach to urging an overweight child (especially a girl) to lose weight.
As a woman who was of “normal” weight for most of my life, but gained weight after having my 2 kids, I could relate to the mother, played by pro Julia Sweeney, who spends most of her time harassing her daughter about her weight. This approach doesn’t work and the grown-up Annie proves it.
There is also a fun plot about striking back at Internet trolls, with Beck Bennet guest starring as the troll who goes online to attack fat people, especially girls, even if they are complete strangers.
There was a lot of talk about sex or having sex and there was a quirky work group that rivaled “The Office.”
I enjoyed the series while it was on the air, although I thought the attempt to strike a blow for overweight women was probably doomed to failure from the get go.
Aidy Bryant (second from left) and Elizabeth Banks (second from far right) with the interviewer and other executive producer appearing onstage for a Q&A following the 2019 screening of an episode of “Shrill,” as it launched.
By the last episode, Fran (Annie’s roommate) has managed to deep-six her lesbian relationship and Annie is on the outs with Will because of the ill-advised trip to the coffee shop where Will’s ex worked. I realize that the creative minds behind this venture (Lindy West and Alexandra Rushfield for all of the episodes, with Elizabeth Banks involved for 16 of them) had to end this somehow, but it was definitely not an inspiring finale. Fran and Annie are sitting on a park bench with a bottle of what looks like champagne that they had saved for the day they would stop being roommates and they both confess that they have managed to completely screw up their most recent love relationships and the final word on that is, “I’ll fix it.”
That was not the “happy ending” most of us had hoped for.
The best that can be said about “happy endings” here is that we learn that Gabe has bought “The Thorn” and Annie and Office Manager Amadi have been promoted, so take your happiness where you can find it.
Q&A with Kevin Smith following the October 21st showing of “Zack and Mimi Make a Porno” at the Chicago Film Festival
As Kevin Smith approached the front of the theater to answer questions, his opening gambit was, “Awesome to be here in Gotham City.” He added, “If our movie makes one-tenth of what that movie made, I’ll be a happy man.”
The first audience question was: “How did you get an “R” rating for this movie?” Smith’s answer was involved. “Initially,” he said, “the movie was given a rating of NC17. We expected that. They said, ‘No, it is still too raunchy. That s*** shot will never play in an ‘R’-rated movie. We just had to accept the rating. Then, it goes before a board of 14 people. One half were from NATO, and I thought, ‘Whoa!’ I didn’t know it was this important!’ Turns out NATO means National Association of Theater Owners. The other 7 are Motion Picture ratings board people. We had 15 minutes to stand up and tell why the movie should be an ‘R.’ Then you leave and there is a silent vote. There were 2 areas that were under discussion. One was the first porno scene because of ‘too much thrusting.’ I felt like saying, ‘Come to my house. There’s no thrusting at all; just hovering.’ The other area of concern was the s*** shot. It’s only 14 frames…not even a second of film. It definitely makes an impact. It certainly did on Jeff Anderson! You get to cite precedent, so we were ready to argue our case. It takes 24 frames to make up one second of screen time. That shot is only 14 frames. If I were 13 and it was 1983 and I saw those scenes, yes, I would go to the bathroom and tug one out. But no kid is gonna’ do that today. So, we cited, as precedent, Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke in ‘Taking Lives,’ where there is a lot of (sexual) thrusting, but it’s done seriously. Our was a comedic version of sex. In order to do that, we had to go over that. For the s*** shot, we cited “Jackass: the Helmet,” where they have a fart helmet. Then, they get a funnel and there’s actual excrement expressed into the funnel in documentary fashion, and THAT got an ‘R’ rating.
So, I’m out in the hall with Joan Gravis who heads up the ratings board and I’m close to making a deal. I was definitely invested in keeping the s*** shot. And then someone comes out and tells us we’ve been given an ‘R’ and I’m, like, ‘See you later, Joan.'”
Question 2: “What about marketing the movie?”: A: “Marketing the movie has been a bitch. We actually use stick figures for the marketing poster, and we’re still having trouble getting the word out or getting people to post them (the posters). We’re having a hard time marketing because the word ‘porno’ is actually in the title. Some people think it actually is a porno film because of that. I’d rather let the movie speak for itself; it comes out in 10 days.”
Question 3: “What about the current generation? Would you let your children see your films?” A: “My daughter is 9. She is gay for ‘High School Musical 3.’ That is the antithesis of our movie. I can get behind it, though. I think our audience is all 10 to 20 years older than my daughter. Kids are hip to that s***. Even in the kids’ world, gossip rules.”
Question 4: (from a would-be writer) “I’m a writer. Can I work for you?” A: “I don’t’ have enough juice to get my own s*** made! I had to get Seth Rogen in this movie before I got the power to get it made.” (Answer was a resounding “No.”)
Question 5: “What strikes you as funny?” A: “I try to make myself laugh and, if other people laugh, that’s my internal barometer.”
Question 6: “How did it happen that Tom Savini appeared as Jenkins, the owner of a shop in the film?” A: “Tom Savini, of course, is the make-up guy associated with George Romero in films like ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and many, many others, and he was a fan. He just wanted to be in it. Monroeville was the place where they shot ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and that shopping mall where they shot that film is in the movie.”
Question 7: “When would Joe Siegel walk out?” A: “I don’t know that he would have made it past the s*** shot. And then he died. So, I really couldn’t talk about it with him. But thanks for bringing the room down!” (Laughter) [*The reference to Joe Siegel was an attempt by an audience member to show how much more he knew than the rest of we mere spectators and how much better informed than the rest of us he was, in that most of the audience didn’t have clue one about Joe Siegel (“Please, Alex! May I buy a clue?”) including me. I assume(d) Joe Siegel had something to do with rating movies…before he died, of course. I don’t really care. It was not germane, really, but, hey…audience member guy! I hope it was a Big Ego Boost to know something arcane that the rest of us didn’t know and that had little or nothing to do with the film, itself and thanks for asking that question and wasting all of our time!]
Question 8: “Were the scenes all scripted, or was there some ad-libbing and improvisation?” A: “Will Ferell and Chris Rock are great ad-libbers, as is Seth Rogen. Take the line, ‘Why is he so high-strung?’ It just sounded like Ben Affleck trying to be funny. With Seth, it was germane to the scene. It propels the scene forward.”
Question 9: “Whose films have influenced you? Who would you like to work with?” A: Jason Segal, Jonah (from “The Forty Year Old Virgin,” and “SuperBad”), Seth Rogen. When I saw Seth in “The Forty Year Old Virgin” I decided I was going to write him a lead. I wrote him an e-mail, asking if he would be interested, and I had an e-mail back within 5 minutes. Seth said he had told his agent, when he arrived in Hollywood, ‘I want to be in a Kevin Smith movie.’ This dude is famous now. He’s more famous than me.”
Question 10: “Do you think there will ever be a ‘Clerks II’?” A: “There was a messy divorce between the Weinstein Brothers and Miramax, so I doubt it.”
At this point, Smith diverged into telling a story about Thanksgiving dinner at the home of Steven Spielberg. George Lucas stopped by, and Ben Affleck was there at the time, along with the Paltrows, who are close friends of the Spielbergs. So, Affleck calls me up and says, (of Lucas and Spielberg), “They were both really geeky. They had a website-off and then lost interest in that and started surfing for porn, but not good porn, you know? That soft porn stuff. And Affleck asked them if they’d ever heard of a movie called ‘Clerks’ and he said, ‘Yes.’ That’s enough.”
Question 11 had to do with the use of R2D2 and other Lucas-inspired characters in the film, such as Princess Leia. A: “Rich McCallum who worked for Lucas let us use the sound effects. It’s not like Lucas said, ‘You put balls on R2D2? I was gonna’ do that in the 50-year-reunion DVD.'”
The conversation moved on to Smith’s recent weight gain, which he attributed to not putting himself in the movie for the first time in many films and, therefore, hitting the craft services wagon much too heavily. “I look in the mirror now and I see my father at age 65, and I’m, like, only 38! Once this movie is over, I’m going to go and drop a lot of weight, but I didn’t think I’d hear anything about my weight here in Chicago. I expected Chicagoans to say, ‘Come: you’re one of us. Come feed with us at the trough.’
Smith then told a funny story about breaking a futuristic toilet at the Laker Blazers poker tournament. When he saw the futuristic toilet with no base, which jutted directly out from the wall, he thought, ‘Nothing under it. That is no friend to a fat man.’ Smith went on to describe doing what he termed “the hover,” (as done for women for years in public rest rooms.) He went into a long discussion of being “a back or front wiper.”
Basically, the story ends with the toilet pulling straight out of the wall and breaking, with Smith saying it was “Horrible on every f****** level. I gotta’ get off the bowl, count to 3 and jump like in ‘Lethal Weapon II.’ And then there’s the guy waiting on the outside of the stall. He’s shouting, ‘You okay in there?’ It’s not like you can come out and be like, ‘Who did this?'”
All ended well when the owner of the emporium was summoned and promised, “Nobody ever has to know.” [Except that Smith just told the world.]
Question #12: “Are you filming a horror movie?” A: I’m filming ‘Red State,’ a $3 to $5 million-dollar horror movie. I’m having a hard time getting funding for it. It’s so black it makes ‘The Dark Knight’ look like ‘Beverley Hills Chihuahua.'”
Question #13: “Do you think you have grown as a filmmaker?” A: Noting that he is now back with his original Director of Photography Dave Klein, Smith said, “I think this is the best thing we’ve ever done visually.” Smith promised to stay faithful to using Klein in the future, noting that he had been paired with Vilmos Szigmond on “Jersey Girl,” as the studio sought to educate him by pairing him with a great Director of Photography in some recent projects. “They ended up saying, we could put him with a great DP and he would turn him into s***. I told Klein, ‘Dude, I will never not work with you (Klein) again.'”
Smith notes that he likes to set his movies in places where he hangs out, hence his settings which, up until this movie set in Pittsburgh, have always been in New Jersey. When he met Seth Rogen, Rogen told him: “‘Clerks’ was the movie that made me want to be a filmmaker.’ He’d (Rogen) say, ‘You’re great!’ And I’d say, “No, YOU’RE great!’ We have a very good interaction. I’d work with him again in a heartbeat.”
Smith then told the audience that the s*** shot had actually happened to Barry Sonnenfeldt when he was working shooting porno films. “I want an e-mail or a call from him, saying either, ‘Dude, you nailed it!’ or ‘You were so far off!'”
Question #14: “Why did you cast 2 actual porn stars (Traci Lord and Katie Morgan) in the film?” “It was Seth’s idea. ‘Think about it,’ he said. ‘There’s nothing you can ask her to do that will be as horrible as what she does in her day job.’ So, we were researching it on the internet…just for the movie, I swear (laughter)…and I saw a YouTube bit of Katie Morgan where she was pretty good in the acting part. She was so excited about the Premiere of the movie. I was like, ‘I’ve been doing this for 15 years now. I’m jaded. I’ve got it at my house. I can watch it in my living room,’ and she’s all excited and enthused about the Premiere.”
Smith noted that Morgan has said to him, “I want to be able to do both” (i.e. serious and porno films). “It was very helpful having Katie and Traci on the set. They knew how it worked in the porn industry. It became ‘Teach me how to direct, Katie Morgan.’ Getting Traci Lords was kind of a coup for us. She hasn’t made a porno film in, like, 20 years and, insensitively, we sent her the script. She read it and decided, ‘Maybe it’s time I embraced my past and made fun of it.”
At this point, Smith told a humorous story about interviewing the porn queen in his home and how he could just imagine his mother and father from his childhood viewing this. He said, “Why did you waste the time on this?”
Question #15: “Do you still work with Scott Mosier?” A: “I find it nearly impossible to do my job without Scott. He’s a wonderful film editor, and he’s a great guy to bounce cuts off (Smith both wrote, directed, and edited the film). It’s like a porn version of how Scott and I make films.”
Question #16: “Who thought up or gave you the idea for the Dutch Rudder?” A: “That came from DP Dave Klein, and I added the Double Dutch Rudder. There was a third one that got cut, the Double Dutch Fudge Rudder.”
At this point, there was a discussion of Jason Mewes always being naked. “He’s always got it out or what-not.” (Smith says “what-not” a lot! Next up: “Yada?”) “When he walked out of the bedroom, naked, he was a lot larger than he normally is, and Ben Affleck said to me, ‘You realize that Mewes is one pump away from total lift-off.’ Mewes, upon hearing this, said, “Tell Affleck that I’m my own fluffer. And I was on the way down, not on the way up.'” An audience member asked if Mewes was off drugs and alcohol. Smith responded, “He’s been sober for 6 years. Doesn’t drink. Doesn’t do drugs.” (As I recall, we applauded Mewes being sober…and I don’t even know the guy!)
Question #17: “Do you have a favorite ‘Star Wars’ sexual fantasy?” A: “I never have had a “Star Wars’ sexual fantasy.”
Writer/Director/Editor Smith told an amusing story about chatting with Brandon Routh, who played “Superman” in the most recent installment of that franchise, and who plays a gay classmate of Zack and Miri’s, in this film. (Smith): “I asked him if there wasn’t some sort of morals clause in his contract that would forbid him from making this film, and he said that the only clause was that he couldn’t portray other superheroes and, when I heard that, I said, ‘Right on! Get in there and kiss that guy!’ “(Jason Long)
Audiences who can handle the crude language (as Smith fans can) and situations and are not scandalized by the storyline, which is basically a sweet story of the discovery of true love, will enjoy “Zack and Miri Make A Porno.” All of us present on October 21st enjoyed the film and the following Q&A at the Chicago Film Festival with Writer/Director/Editor Kevin Smith.