Disguised as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl of Entanglement, Jess Weixler reveals how she subverted expectation to deliver a rom-com gut-punch.
The last thing the world needs is another new romantic comedy. Boy meets girl; boy loses the girl, boy tricks girl into ignoring his horrendous flaws. Seriously, where do you go after Shaun of the Dead negates any further exploration of this painfully tired genre? Give up; it’s all been done. Jason James’ Entanglement savagely tackles the manic pixie dream girl fantasy and preaches that self-love is the essential ingredient to finding romance with another human being. If you have nothing but contempt for yourself, then there’s no point in browsing engagement rings at Jared’s. No diamond is big enough to plug that hole in your soul.
After the disintegration of his marriage, Thomas Middleditch’s Ben has fallen into seemingly unrepairable despair. Suicide is the only logical choice, but he’s even worse at committing to an execution method than he was at securing his Facebook relationship status. When his father confesses that they nearly adopted a young girl just weeks before his conception, Ben attempts to track down this sister he never had. Maybe if he had a sibling in that nightmarish household, then his life would have steered into a more positive direction. Maybe all he needed was a friend, a defender, a nurturer, a team-mate by his side. Enter Jess Weixler’s Hanna.
Don’t let the trailer fool you. This is not another quirky slant on the rom-com. Entanglement preys on your expectations for the genre, and cleverly subverts those tropes that film cynics are predisposed to eye-roll against. We had the opportunity to chat with Jess Weixler about her tricky role opposite Thomas Middleditch. The film offers several surprises, and we try to dance around them in our conversation, but if you want to go into the film completely unsullied, then I recommend that you stop here, watch the film, and come back to us. You won’t regret it. Weixler discusses the joys of playing with convention and the challenges of finding authenticity in the abstract.
Entanglement arrives in theaters and On Demand and Digital HD on February 9th, just in time for a Valentine’s Day intervention.
How you would classify Entanglement regarding genre?
Oh, interesting. I would like to say it’s not a romantic comedy because I think it’s trying to break down the romantic comedy thing, but it is … It’s somewhere between a dark comedy and a romantic comedy, but it’s also not going to comedy most of the time. Every now and then it peaks out, but it’s … What do you think it is?
It basically exploits our expectations of the romantic comedy. There are these quirky animated deer and birds a la 500 Days Of Summer and they’re cute, and it’s a representation of that early romance vibe, but then you discover this serious human sorrow behind them. Your character, Hanna, is maybe positioned initially as a manic pixie dream girl, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than that.
Yeah. I was trying to do that, in the beginning, but yeah, that’s why it’s hard to say, or why I feel like it’s not a romantic comedy…I was trying to look at romantic comedies and go, “What are they doing that’s making that dream girl thing, like the one who smokes but is funny, but she’s kind of trouble, and she’s exciting,” all those tropes that make somebody seem so charming and attractive, but not real, somebody who doesn’t feel quite real.
What was that initial attraction to the script when you were reading it? What really hit you first?
The thing that hit me first actually comes early in the movie, and then as it went on, I was like, “Ah, this could be really cool.” Without giving away too much, I suppose, I loved that he was trying to find out at what point something happened that started off this string of habits that make him unhappy, how you keep doing the same things over and over. There’s something you’re doing that’s making you unhappy and is there something that could have happened along the way that changed that.
I love that he thought, “What if I had a sister,” but it starts pretty, not in a romantic way at all, but just, what if he had a sister or a woman in his life, to have a friend growing up in what was clearly a very hard household to grow up in? Yeah, just the desire to connect to somebody early on, and what if it had been a girl? Then I love that as it goes on, I think, or I hope, it shifts from being this dream girl, charming thing that he falls in love with to it being a piece of himself that’s been missing that he’s kind of, I think, learning to accept himself as a whole person for all its sadness and all its darkness.
He’s missed being brave, maybe, in his life, and he had to create this fantasy to make having fun, maybe not having fun but being exciting, having something exciting or important to him. He’s always been, withdrawn. So, he creates this extroverted girl that is really him, a part of him that’s been missing.
Does that give too much away? Should I be talking in a way that’s less-
I think the way we talk about it is, Hanna is, she’s a character that has a turn at some point in the film, without talking about what that turn is. I do want to discuss how you played that turn. Do you play her as one character or two characters?
I hope people don’t see her consistent throughout. I hope she starts to feel more and more real as it goes on. I was trying to sort of start her more quintessential perfect, a little quirky rebel, and then move into being somebody who he could really talk to and who he really went places with where he felt real joy. I think the love scene is quite real, and I really wanted that love scene to be beautiful in its own way, because hopefully, it’s him loving more of himself. I don’t know if that’s going too far into a metaphor.
I think that’s the joy of the film, and possibly the danger of the film, too. You don’t want to tip your hand early. I’m kind of curious, your conversations with the director, Jason James, how did you discuss your character and how did you avoid revealing too much too early?
Well, to credit the script, it doesn’t give it away in any obvious way. It’s just every now and then when I would see like a line that felt like a romantic comedy line, like, “I’m the girl,” I would push into it a little bit so it would get just a little too much, like it’s too perfect, but the script itself did a pretty good job of not giving away the reveal, which was nice. I didn’t have to hide it too much. Yeah, and then I just played it like, “What if he was a brother I fell in love with?” It’s funny to me the scenes where she’s giving away pieces of her own life, where she talks about being adopted, like how you kind of make heads and tails of that for what that is to him, how everything that happens to me is through the lens of the story he needs to tell.
Is that too convoluted?
No, no. I think that’s perfect. This is a tricky story to navigate without spoiling too much.
Your character, Hanna, she has this dominance over Thomas’ character, or at least in a sense that she’s simply more confident in her skin, and of course that’s an attraction that he has to her, but could you talk a little bit about forming that relationship with Thomas on set or in rehearsal?
Thomas is like one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever been around. He is even funnier in person than anything I’ve ever seen him in, if you can believe it. What was actually nice about that is I knew I needed to be the one in charge, the one who is very comfortable in her skin and showing him things. Because he was so playful on set, he just sort of put me in that place where we were cracking each other up so much getting into it that I felt very comfortable in my own skin. Then he had the trickier job of just downshifting to being incredibly awkward and shy. I just got to keep feeling very loose and easy.
Where do you turn for inspiration for a character like Hanna?
I watched some of these romantic comedies that I think are particularly cheesy, and I’ll mention this one just because I think it’s good in terms of … I think the movie Serendipity is about as cheesy as you can possibly be, and that’s sort of just somebody popping up at the right moments and being all the kinds of charming, a combination of the things that movie was doing, which feel very contrived to me, even though that movie is a joy in its own 90s kind of way, and like a Marilyn Monroe character, like a Marilyn Monroe mixed with a James Dean. All those iconicly cool guys.
I thought about Marilyn Monroe a lot because we wanted to go ultra light blonde with Hana’s hair so it’s very striking, and James Dean being a little too cool for things. Yeah, I just thought of all those things that make people sort of go nuts for other people, where you look at them and you’re like, “They’re just … They are amazing.” And hopefully there are bits of that, like we said before, and then it drifts into a person that feels real, where she also has flaws.
I think the bowling scene where she starts talking about her own adoption is maybe the first time it really shifts into her having flaws that are not just cool like she can break into things, which aren’t really flaws.
Now, I know you’re a bit of a movie buff yourself. Do you often think about other classic movies when you’re making your own choices, when you’re guiding your path through your filmography?
That’s an interesting question. No, I don’t think so, but that’s not a bad idea.
Well, it’s just going to James Dean and Marilyn Monroe and thinking about her and Hanna connected…Entanglement certainly is a response to certain kinds of movies.
Oh. I think I probably don’t normally do that, although nothing would suffer from looking at the classics. But I think with this in particular just because she is supposed to be such a perfect, such an idealized figure, that that made me think, “What makes somebody idealized? What makes people obsess over other people? Why were people so obsessed with Marilyn Monroe? She just had something that people are really attracted to.” Yeah, and I don’t think I’m naturally like that, so I needed to study it. Yeah.
Well, I think the big appeal for me with Entanglement is that it is being marketed as sort of a romantic comedy, but you have to sell it on how it turns that genre on its head and skewers that genre in a lot of ways. There’s a great joy in that deconstruction to be found.
I hope so, yeah, because I know I’ve had, and I know it’s coming out around Valentine’s Day and all of this, but I’ve had those relationships where part of them, they were so funny and wonderful, but I definitely created the rest of who they were in my mind, in the beginning for sure. Then it wasn’t til down the road that I got to know who they actually were, and it just clashed with the person I had created them to be, which is I think what a lot of … Who knows if a lot of people do it, but it’s something that can happen in the beginning of a relationship when you’re infatuated with somebody, and you think that’s what love feels like, that infatuation.
I really like that this is saying that love isn’t about being so excited by a person. It isn’t all the, “Oh, this person is so exciting.” You being married, I’m sure I’m just preaching to the choir, that it’s somebody who really, you get to know who they are, somebody who loves you for all your sad parts too and is just there for the whole bigger picture.
I like that. I like that the romantic part of this isn’t like, “Oh, romance is so exciting.” It’s that romance is about loving the wholeness of people.
I know you’ve got to go. I just wanted to say that one of my personal favorite films of yours is Teeth. Watching it the other day, I thought it still has incredible relevance to our current cultural climate. Do you still look fondly back onto that film?
Firstly, I love that you watched it recently. That’s so cool. Yes, I look at it very fondly. With the women’s marches and everything that’s been going on, I’ve been seeing a lot of the “Pussy bites back” posters.
I could not be more proud to have been a part of that. Teeth sort of came in really early on that feminist stance. Yeah, I think it’s only gotten more relevant. I’ve seen these crazy cartoons with Trump and a vagina versus a vagina. They’re just amazing. I’m quite proud of is all I can say.
I think it’s time to get Teeth back into theaters, find something like an Alamo Drafthouse to play it. I think it will still slay a crowd.
Oh, that would be so cool.