What Goes Around ...
With 'Some Girl(s),' Neil LaBute circles back from stage to screen
Times change. People change. Or do they?
That question curls around the heart of Some Girl(s), the new film based on Neil LaBute's 2005 play in which a writer on the verge of matrimony makes a cross-country odyssey to visit old flames. Ostensibly, he's reconnecting to apologize for his past hurtful conduct – to "make things okay," he tells one – but the longer he talks, the more he comes off as the same self-absorbed, self-justifying jerk that he was when he was involved with these women.
Likewise, 16 years have passed between LaBute's impressive screenwriting debut with In the Company of Men and Some Girl(s), but he says, "If you watch those films back to back, you might think: What's different?" He's still setting scenes in airports and hotel rooms, still focusing on small numbers of people, still revealing their characters through what they say, and in the center of the frame are still those men behaving badly. But between these somewhat similar indie films have been studio projects from which, LaBute says, he's "learned to craft a more traditional screenplay." Films such as Possession or the much-maligned The Wicker Man – a remake that LaBute considers freighted by "too many different expectations" – are worlds away from In the Company of Men, which makes Some Girl(s) a return to his roots.
"It's funny. The journey is almost circular," he says. "Some Girl(s) started as a play, but even as a play, it felt like a road movie – four locations, different parts of the country. So the decision to open it up a bit, jumping from airports to hotel rooms and back, felt very natural."
In transferring this script from stage to screen, LaBute also sees himself completing a circle, careerwise. While he's worked continuously in film since In the Company of Men, as both a writer and director, he's found more opportunities to develop his writing on stage. "Making film opened up my career as a theatre practitioner," he says, and, as a result, he's better known now as a playwright than a filmmaker. Bringing one of those theatrical successes to the cineplex is a special way of re-establishing himself as a screenwriter.
That's screenwriter, not director. For the first time, LaBute didn't call the shots while a script of his was being filmed. That was done by veteran television director Daisy von Scherler Mayer (Nurse Jackie, Mad Men). So did LaBute have difficulty surrendering that control? Not a bit, he says. "I've had my scripts directed by other people so many times in the theatre that it didn't feel strange at all." And don't imagine that he had the sort of gender issues that one of his characters might have. "I totally loved that it was going to be a woman directing," he says. "You have this guy writing all these women's parts, so it's great to have a woman's voice in there."
LaBute feels the timing is right for this story of a man (played here by Adam Brody) whose effort to make amends with others is really about salving his own conscience, satisfying himself. "I think the film will resonate even more than when the play was done. We're in such a show-me, look-at-me culture. People feel the need to relate their moment by moment. They will Instagram the hell out of you until they exhaust you. You can tell them that, but it still won't stop them doing it. This guy is feeding off those experiences. He has those best intentions, but it's also self-serving."
And would LaBute ever like to revisit each one of his old films to apologize for what he didn't get right? "Every movie, I could go back to and see things that I'd change," he says. "'Too many people here. I shouldn't have cut this scene. I wish it were still in there.'" But theatre has helped him make peace with those things. "You're always seeing someone do something different with your script."
Narrative Spotlight, World Premiere
Saturday, March 9, 7pm, Topfer
Monday, March 11, 9:15pm, Alamo Village
Tuesday, March 12, 9:30pm, Alamo Village
Friday, March 15, 1:30pm, Stateside