L.A. Story

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t’s a story as old as time: girl meets jerk; girl attaches to jerk; jerk evaporates in an ambiguous, CK1-scented haze; rinse, repeat. (The less attractive nice guy, meanwhile, is writing it all down, but that’s not important now.) The chronic form of this condition, a.k.a. “jerk magentism,” is the focus of the new film Easy.
    Jamie (Marguerite Moreau) is a twentysomething “product namer” in Los Angeles who has no shortage of sex. After an affair with a former teacher (Naveen Andrews, The English Patient) goes wrong in an overly familiar way, she vows celibacy for ninety days. Difficult discoveries follow. Charming but no chick flick, Easy presents a vision of L.A. — and of indie film itself — where people fuck, talk and self-affirm like grown-ups, without sugary or shocking cinematic additives.
    Moreau (who also stars on ABC’s Life as We Know It as the student-seducing English teacher Ms. Young) is what’s usually called a revelation as Jamie — she’s the sexually uninhibited Parker Posey of the ’00s. Nerve sat down with Moreau and Easy writer/director Jane Weinstock to discuss the film’s interestingly raw sex scenes, the struggle to get it made, and the unique nudity rider in Moreau’s contract. — Michael Martin

How did you get the kernel of the idea: a woman facing down her history as a jerk magnet?
Jane Weinstock: Well, let me guess: perhaps from my own history. They weren’t all jerks, but I had horrible taste in men until very recently. Finally I got together with someone nice and managed to stay with him. But I did have a long history of less-than-perfect relationships. Also, I taught a lot, and I teach graduate art students so I know a lot of women that age, and I interviewed twenty or thirty women before writing the character. So a lot of it came from that research, but definitely from personal experience as well. There are not a whole lot of programs, movies or TV shows, anything that really kind of looks at women who have lots of sex, unless they’re prostitutes. There are a lot of those. But other women who have a lot of sex, sometimes they’re the best friend or the sidekick, but they’re never really explored, and I really kind of wanted to explore that with some depth.
Do you think the jerk-magnet phenomenon has changed over the years, or do you think it’s a universal condition?
Jane: I think it’s a universal psychological condition. I think people can be jerks if they, for whatever reason, don’t think well of themselves. Or if they have an example in their family of a father who didn’t treat the mother well, or a mother who didn’t treat the father well, and they’re kind of replaying that. I think there are men who never go out with nice women…
Marguerite Moreau: And vice versa. I have a girlfriend who will never date this guy who she’s perfect for because he’s nice to her. It drives us insane. You’re actually supposed to be attracted to the exact thing that your parents are. I mean, actually sexually attracted only to people who treat you like dirt. I mean, it’s like the bad boy, even though it’s like the biggest cliché.
Jane: But they don’t say the same about men. Like that kind of icy blonde who’s never going to be nice to them.
Marguerite: There’s also that thing with men where they want the blonde, but that’s not who they take home, or the more sexually adventurous woman, whatever color her hair is. There’s the kind of girl you go out with and the kind of girl you take home to mom.
Jamie’s sort of an jerk-magnet with women too. Her sister sleeps with her ex.
Jane: To me it raises a kind of moral question that people debate because they were no longer together… Was that an unforgivable thing to do? Was it maybe not the right thing to do? I like exploring these moral ambiguities and getting people to talk about them, because that’s certainly one of them. Having your sister going out with one of your ex-boyfriends. Is that unacceptable or not? And I think different people think different things.
Marguerite: For me, I don’t think it’s Jamie’s fault that she finds herself in these types of relationships, because through the course of the film it’s her decision to make a decision, instead of just falling into this and falling into that. Instead of just going with her impulses, she actually makes a conscious decision and that’s when the next part of her life starts, her adult life.
In what ways does this film capture the way in which the dating scene that’s exclusive to L.A.?
Jane: I wanted it not to be like other L.A. movies, where everyone’s white, everyone’s blonde, everyone’s in the movie business, and… what else are they?
Marguerite: Tan.
Jane: Tan! So I didn’t want it to be typical. And of course there are all kinds of races in L.A., and you don’t see that in the movies. I wanted to have that in the movie, as a reflection of L.A., but also as something that’s more important in a universal way.
Have you both been jerk-magnets in the past?
Jane: Well, they weren’t like total jerks, but they tended to speak English as their second language and live an ocean away. So it was a kind of variation on that basic distance theme. I didn’t really realize I was doing it, but I ended up with two guys who were both not American, because that was my history: I didn’t go out with a lot of American men.
What changed for you? Did you go cold turkey?
Jane: I saw shrinks. I didn’t think about celibacy ever, not that it wasn’t imposed on me at some times. [laughter] I went to shrinks and I realized, well, this isn’t what I want, this isn’t making me feel great. So I kind of worked really hard on myself and it was tough, because I would be with someone nice and I would think, "Why is he being so nice to me? Why is he doing this for me? Why is he so considerate?" As I said, they weren’t horrible, but for the most part, they weren’t what I was used to.
Marguerite, what about you?
Marguerite: Well, I dated my teacher, which was helpful in establishing that aspect of the character.
That kind of relationship is a lot more common than we suspect.
Marguerite: And I’m playing it in Life As We Know It, playing a teacher. So it’s the other way around. I’ve explored the teacher-student thing from as many angles as I can think of at the moment. In my experience as a studen dating a teacher, I was just about to finish school, so we made sure to wait until I was done and we were in the clear. But it was still thrilling for a while there, and it was a lovely three-year relationship. When two people meet and there are other circumstances — either age is in the way, or some other social structure — you want that very romantic love-conquers-all experience. At least I did. In my case, it worked for a while, but then it didn’t. So onward and upward, and I’m healthier for it.
Are you past that now?
Marguerite: I have a very close friend who would say absolutely not. But I am seeing a shrink and working very hard on myself, so I’m in transition! [laughs]
Jane: Do most of your friends see shrinks?
Yes. I live in New York.
Jane: Do they really? I just wondered if it had changed.
Were you at all hesitant about the sex scenes?
Marguerite: I’ve never been opposed to nudity in film. I quite like it when it’s done well, but usually the movie stops for the scene, and that’s never satisfying to the overall narrative. And I knew when I met Jane — she just fascinated me from the moment I met her — I knew that whatever she shot was going to be good, and I wanted to be a part of it. There was a moment when I had to convince my specialists in Los Angeles, my agents, my team of people, that "I met this woman, I know this woman. And I have a really good feeling; I want to put myself in her hands." And they were like, "ARE YOU NUTS?" And I was like, I don’t care, I don’t care. I wanted to see what and where, because she has a very specific opinion, and very lovely taste, and I thought if there was ever a time to explore female sexuality from a woman’s point of view, then this was it. That’s how it kind of came about for me. It was really a feeling that she wanted but not, like — there were certainly scripted lines, but how we arrived there was really what we all created that day. It was a really satisfying experience, no pun intended.
The scenes are pretty raw, both in terms of nudity and the way they’re shot. Were they improvised?
Marguerite: No, there was a script, but in terms of she gets on him here, that wasn’t all set up. So there was a guide, and like I said, a tone or a feeling of what the characters were going through that she was looking for. And then, my work with Brìan and Naveen, depending on how much time we had, was really just getting comfortable, getting safe. It was as uncomfortable for us as it would be for two young new lovers who are not drunk and intoxicated and just taking each other down. So in that way, it was just sort of what she expressed that she was looking for are all parts of what is the swelling scene you see in other movies. You don’t really know, you’re just supposed to think, "Oh, they’ve gotten there." But you never get to go there with them, and identify with it or not.
Jane: And we knew what we weren’t going to do also. We had all talked about that.
Marguerite: Nothing with toys.
Jane: We had a contract.
Marguerite: My group [of agents] asked me if I was going to let her go carte blanche. Because usually in contracts it says you can show two shots of your left breast, and one shot of your buttocks, and one shot of you going down kissing his stomach. It has to be that specific.
Jane: And that’s if you’re lucky! [laughs] Or rather, if the director is lucky.
Marguerite: And they said, "Well, at least write everything she’s not allowed to do, if she’s not going to give you any structure…" And I’m like, "You mean animals?" So I called her up, and I said "Jane, I’m going to fax you this list and we both have to sign it. And me and my girlfriend are thinking of everything we could possibly think of, just to appease them so they would feel more comfortable."
Jane: And you started having a good time with it.
Marguerite: Yeah, why not? I’m going to frame it one day.
What was the most extreme clause?
Marguerite: Definitely the gerbils.
Jane: No gerbils.
Marguerite: You can’t even show a vibrator in a movie, or else it’s porn. I think we realized that, right?
Jane: I can’t remember. There was a vibrator, but I don’t think that’s why we cut it out. But I don’t know; it might have been a problem. Who knows. I mean we got it on, and that’s what we expected.
The ratings board works on all these weird barometers and sliding scales.
Jane: Oh, I dealt with them on the trailer. It was censored twice, even though I didn’t have anything you weren’t allowed to show. I mean, the trailer, obviously it has to be G-rated, and I didn’t have anything you weren’t allowed to show. There was this scene where a male character is wearing a skirt and he says, "I wear skirts after work; it gives the privates their fresh air." They cut that. I mean, you can’t say "privates?"
Marguerite: Can’t show guys in skirts.
Jane: This is like old comedy, like Buster Keaton. And they said, "Well if you cut that, we’ll let you have this." There was a whole elaborate negotiation. It drove me crazy; I was going to kill them. You can’t say "privates" but then there’s this scene where they’re clearly having sex — I mean, you don’t see anything, but to me it’s a very graphic scene — and they left a moment of that in. I mean, it’s totally illogical.
How did you want to respond to and correct the standard cinematic sex scene?
Jane: I think mainly sex scenes are ridiculous, even in very good movies. They’re just absurd. They don’t show what I want to see. There’s this sort of weird fragmentation. I mean, there’s this shadowy shot of a leg. That’s sex? It’s ridiculous. And people don’t talk. I think it’s really interesting to talk during sex. I wanted them to talk, and I didn’t want to have music. Not making it easier with music was good for the awkwardness and intensity too.
Marguerite: And it’s also about how you perceive what sex is supposed to be, and how it’s supposed to go. And if you don’t have a public dialogue — I know that me and my girlfriends are not that comfortable talking to each other about our sexual experiences, we’re working on it, but I’ve also realized, through the course of this whole experience, that I’ve looked to cinematic sex scenes to define what a positive good sexual experience was, and then could never figure out why it wasn’t. What’s wrong with me? My leg looks like that? So I think they’re very destructive. They might look very pretty — not that they have to be educational, but we are there to escape.
Jane: I think Jane Campion does great sex scenes. She’s really good at it. Not many other people.
What kind of process did you go through in trying to sell the film and make sure it was distributed?
Jane: Oh it was a difficult process, incredibly difficult. I wrote it and then I sent it around a little bit. And often there would be one person in a company who would say, "Oh, this is great!" Then there would be a guy at the top who would say "Oh, well, it’s very well-written, but these are not issues we’d like to do so we’re not going to do it." And I went through that for a little bit. And then my husband and I just wrote to everyone we’d ever met — including college people I hadn’t talked to in a million years — and said, "Please give us money for this film." And we got a little bit, and mortgaged the house, and then shot it in video and blew it up to film.
Do you think that you had such a difficult time because of the subject matter, because it was told from a female perspective?
Jane: Yeah, sure. These were perfectly nice guys saying they didn’t want to do the movie, but what they were really saying was, "If we’re going to spend a few years of our lives, and spend this money, and take the risks, it’s going to be about a story that’s our story." And this wasn’t their story, and most of the people who make those decisions are men. As it turns out, a lot of men relate to the things she’s going through and do identify with her, which makes me very happy because I didn’t want to make a movie that was just for women. But it’s tough; most movies you see have a male main character, right?
Marguerite: Or a female character that is essentially a male. Like Lara Croft. It’s a girl, but it’s still a guy. She’s like an action figure.
It’s interesting to bring that up, because I didn’t feel like there was one ounce of chick flick in this. Was there anything you wanted to do with Jamie to make sure she wasn’t a typical girl?
Marguerite: No make-up. Jane was great, because in the compressed amount of time that we were shooting I was throwing out whatever I could think of and she was like, "Not that! Nope! Let’s stay away from any sort of sexed-up thing." There’s definitely a feminine way of dressing that’s to catch a man. And I’ve learned so much from Jane, in creating this character, about my own perceptions of clichés of femininity that have trapped me. It was fun.
What kinds of clichés have trapped you?
Marguerite: Dressing for sex. The entire getup. You can walk down the street and sketch a little story of a woman’s relationship and how they relate to men, just based on how they’re dressed.
Jane: But you can still be really sexy without doing the kind of thing Marguerite is talking about. It’s not about not being sexy. It’s about avoiding a certain kind of cliché of sexy. You don’t have scenes that are about nail polish and those sorts of things. Generally in a chick flick girls sit around and do each other’s nails and talk about dates. So there isn’t any of that kind of stuff. I mean, the character is a tomboy in some ways, so that helped in terms of making sense of the characters. What else? You know the colors; I didn’t want pink, I didn’t want purple, those sort of chick flick colors. I didn’t want things to be frilly.
Marguerite: No American flags.
Jane: That was a rule. If we were shooting an exterior and there was a flag, we would reframe it.
What kind of reaction have you both gotten to the film at Sundance and beyond? And has that reaction broken down along gender lines?
Jane: We’ve really gotten good reactions from across the boards, from eighteen-year-olds to like, sixty-year-olds.
Marguerite: One of our best audiences ever was in Dallas. Everyone was about fifty.
Jane: In Dallas, they were forty.
Marguerite: Life as We Know It got cancelled one night in Dallas. Because Ms. Young was sleeping with one of her students, in the storeroom no less. So we thought "Dallas? Oh, my God, we’re gonna go down in flames."
Jane: "This is not going to be a good situation." But as it turns out, they loved it, they were big laughers, especially the guys. And this man walked up to me afterward and said, "You know your producer wrote to me asking me to invest in this film. And I thought your script was pretty good, but you know, I didn’t really see that it would be this movie. And I want to put money into your next movie." That was a nice surprise. So it was a great audience in Dallas for whatever reason. But anyway, I went to Korea and showed it there, to nineteen-year-old Korean kids. They seemed to like it too. I think at least it worked universally to some degree in that these kids knew so little about sex. It’s a very repressive culture. So it was a bit shocking to them, and they were very into it, and they were asking me all kind of questions like I was Dr. Ruth. You know, how to lead their sex lives and whether they were going to get married or not…
Marguerite: You should have a column! "Jane Speaks Korean."
Jane: I should.  

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