How did the movie initially come into being?
For me, it was the desire to work with Greta, and to do something in New York again, and to do something in black-and-white—those were my thoughts that were specific, but also kind of general. And once I enlisted Greta, I wasn’t necessarily thinking we’d cowrite it; I just asked her what she was thinking about and asked her what could be in this movie if we were doing a movie about a 27-year-old woman, and she had all these great ideas and thoughts and observations. That kind of started this conversation, mostly through email, and started to inform whatever the movie was going to become.
How was the collaborative writing process? You’ve done collaborative writing before, but the end result here just seemed so specifically joyful and lovely without being dishonest about the characters. It’s rare to see something so intelligent that also sheds light on its characters in such a generous way.
I felt the same way. I had a lot of affection for everybody—I mean for the characters, but the actors too. And I felt like it was very clear to me that the character—that Frances—should be protected by the film in a way, and also kind of honored by the film, which was partly why I shot it in black-and-white—and not just black-and-white, but kind of formally and classically, and with big music. It was also clear to me that the movie should sort of elevate and support her, even though what she might be going through is relatively small by cinema standards. But I felt like, no, for this person at this time, what she’s going through are big things. You know, deciding whether or not you’re going to pay the surcharge at the ATM is a big deal for her, and the movie should honor that and so, likewise, I felt like I wanted to give her a proper ending, because I felt like she was struggling and going through a lot, but she was so open-hearted about it and, I mean, I know I’m talking about her as if she’s a real person, but I think part of it was in knowing that and in writing the character and in knowing intuitively how Greta was going to play her, I knew I needed to protect that.
The ending works because it’s such a real ending, and it’s like Frances spent the whole movie just moving non-stop and finally she’s in one place. You’ve said the movie is like a road trip movie where nobody goes anywhere. Was this film as pleasurable to make as it was for me to watch and then talk about endlessly?
It was, it was. But it was also rigorous. We did many, many takes of scenes, and we shot over a long period of time. We designed it this way, so that everyone who was involved had to commit to coming back, and I think because we all really liked each other it was easy. But it was also rigorous in its way, you know, getting these scenes and moments to play as we felt they really should. It took time and intention, but I think the spirit and what you’re responding to is baked into the script. The way I approached the material, I think it did bring out a certain amount of joy to everyone making it.
This movie has been called a coming-of-age film, not unlike your directorial debut, Kicking and Screaming. What do you think is the appeal of coming-of-age movies?
I think on the one hand, if you’re older than the characters, you do remember that time—we all go through some version of what Frances goes through. And I actually feel like we continue to go through it, that throughout our lives we kind of revisit these times when the story of your life is not the reality of your life. That the story of yourself that you tell yourself is not necessarily right, and kind of accepting that and kind of embracing that is the challenge for all of us. I think that Frances, who in some ways is so stubborn about adjusting, but then she really does it with grace... I think finding that for the character, she seemed to get there very naturally as we were trying to tell the story in the writing, but I don’t think it’s age-dependent, and I don’t think this generation is essentially different or going through something different than what I went through at that age. And that’s one more reason that I liked the black-and-white—it’s both nostalgic and timeless at once.