Ry Russo-Young’s subtle, smart and sexually charged new film, Nobody Walks, which she cowrote with Lena Dunham, is about Martine (Olivia Thirlby), a young artist from New York who comes to stay in the pool house of a Los Angeles therapist and sound designer (Rosemarie DeWitt and John Krasinski) to finish the sound mix on her film. Her alluring presence alters the loose and open energy of this liberal household, with permanent reverberations for all involved. The film screens at 6:50pm this Saturday, with Russo-Young, Dunham and Thirlby in person.
So, where did the idea come from?
One of the initial things was that I had just made You Wont Miss Me, which is half inside a character’s head. Shelly Brown is the anchor of the movie, and literally we hear her voiceover within her mind. And I had been living in this person’s head for so long, that I really wanted to make a movie that fractured the perspective among many different characters, where you were aligning yourself with one person and transferring your alliance to a different character, and so the perspective and loyalty of the audience was shifted.
How did you do that?
I think that Lena [Dunham, co-writer] and I created characters that we love. We loved each and every one but we had them all fail in some way, we had them all win and then we had them all fail. So we gave them traits that were both appealing and disgusting. And so there was no specific villain. It was diverse in that sense. And that to me is the essence of our lives, you know? You watch yourself fuck up, and then you watch yourself do something good. And you are always navigating that push and pull.
So we start out focused on Olivia Thirlby’s character, Martine, but you don’t think the audience stays on her towards the end. At what point…?
I think it goes though different incarnations, and I think it shifts for different people. I think that after she has sex with him, I think a lot of people, that the tendency is to feel protective of the family in some way: “What is this girl doing? Why is she doing this? Why is she betraying this family?” But then by the time she says, “I have to get my shit done,” you shift again. You wonder, well, was she pressured into this? Was she cajoled? Did she feel like she didn’t have an option? How helpless is she? How much control does she have over her own choices and actions? And how much of a victim is this person?
It really does have reverberations, that moment of, “I’m just trying to get my shit done.” You look back and realize how subtle her performance is during the sex scenes. She does such a good job of communicating, in that moment—once his attraction to her starts—that she realizes she’s fucked if she does and fucked if she doesn’t, basically. She does such a good job of communicating that sense of, “Might as well. This might be worse if I say no.”
It’s really subtle, is the truth, her performance. Even the way it’s written is really subtle. There’s this moment when she’s going to have sex with him where she kind of pulls away and says, “This house is full of people.” And therefore we shouldn’t do this, is the subtext of that line. But it’s subtle. She doesn’t pull away and say, “Well you have a wife!” But it’s in the essence of, there are other people in this world besides you and me. But he ignores it and kind of swoops her up. I think there’s a lot of hesitation there.
When I was 23 and when a lot girlfriends of mine were 23, it’s something that we experienced in all kinds of ways, that ambiguity of these complicated relationships: “Oh, am I doing something sexually that I’m not quite comfortable with yet? Have I just had a drink and am doing it now?” And I think that line is really interesting, and not quite seen often enough, maybe.
Those are such basic things about the sexual dynamics from that perspective—about power and also accidentally realizing a power you don’t want, and work—in your film, and I realized, “Oh, I’ve never seen this before in a film.” That’s so crazy. It’s so basic, for women, but it hasn’t been shown before. It just makes you realize how little of real, complicated female sexuality is actually on film.
It also really does a great job of showing the tunnel vision men can get in that moment. I feel another key line is when Julie’s patient tells her about the dream he had of her, when she was “dressed to fuck” but was resisting, and he says he took off his pants just so she knew he was hard. As opposed to Martine’s “I was just trying to get my shit done.” I feel like those counter such different male/female approaches in that situation when there’s an inappropriate attraction.
I’m attracted to you, therefore, what are you gonna do about it? Yeah. Yeah, that’s really interesting. And I think the movie also shows all these different levels. You have everyone from Dave the assistant who is just kind of into Martine and is there if she’ll have him, to those two characters, the patient and then John K., who’s kind of more of an active player. So hopefully there’s a spectrum there.