Sophia Takal is an actor/director/producer. She directed the feature film Green and is editing a new one called Always Shine. She produces and acts in her husband, writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine’s movies like Gabi on the Roof in July and Wild Canaries, which just came out on Netflix! She also acts in other people’s movies.
As a Jewish filmmaker, I have dreamed of writing a movie about a Jewish holiday or event. Somewhere on some desktop computer from 8th grade I’ve got at least 15 pages.
What I’m sure the script doesn’t say is: WENDY, 40s, married with two kids and a workaholic husband. A quintessential JAP replete with princess cut diamond ring. Think: TINA FEY.
Here is what I imagine the conversation went when Shawn Levy pitched This Is Where I Leave You:
Shawn: I have a passion project. I’ve brought you so many great films. It’s a movie about Jews sitting Shiva.
Studio: Does it have to be Jews? Does it have to be Shiva?
Shawn: Yes because Shiva is seven days so it gives us lots of time for all those heart to hearts between all of the family members.
Studio: Who’s going to be in it?
Shawn: Tina Fey.
Studio: Tina Fey is Jewish?
Shawn: No, but we’ll just make the family not Jewish.
Studio: So it doesn’t have to be Shiva?
Shawn: No it still needs to be Shiva because we need time for all the heart to heart monologues we wrote. And since it’s based on a book about Jews at Shiva.
Studio: So she is Jewish?
Shawn: Well no, we’ll make the mom not Jewish and that’ll explain it.
Studio: So why are they sitting Shiva?
Shawn: So there is time for the heart to hearts and so Tina Fey gets a lot of chances to try to cry.
Studio: Who else is in it?
Shawn: Jason Bateman.
Studio: He’s Jewish.
Shawn: No, he’s not. His last name just sounds Jewish.
Shawn: Look, we’ll make them half Jewish. And cast a bunch of Jewish-looking people.
Studio: Jewish looking?
Shawn: Yeah, you know, offbeat. Not conventionally good looking. No one will know the difference.
Studio: Sounds good.
Larry & I went to see this movie in Monterey, a 45 minute drive from the seclusion of Big Sur. We got there early so wandered around the mall. I got to check out Hot Topic and Claire’s and all the other dope stores I went to as a kid.
Then I bought movie tickets from this really nice lady. I asked to take her picture because I was writing about my experience and she got excited and said I inspired her to write about her own experiences on a blog. I think she thought I had a personal blog I was writing about. This is what she looked like:
The movie was inauthentic to the core.
Remember when Angelina Jolie played a Cuban person?
Remember when The Guilt Trip never mentioned the main characters were Jewish?
Sascha Baron Cohen
Shia La Boeuf
Evan Rachel Wood
From: Nick Dawson
To: Sophia Takal
Date: Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 8:36 PM
Because of how we title out pieces (basically “[Filmmaker] Talks [Name of Film]”), it makes it difficult for your “Guess Who’s Coming to Shiva” idea to be that prominent. I love the audaciousness of the piece being just these lists, and I don’t think you should ditch any of this, but I think it still needs something more. I want more of you in the piece!
Do you want to chat about this briefly tomorrow?
From: Sophia Takal
To: Nick Dawson
Date: Monday, September 22, 2014 at 9:41 AM
Shit, Nick. I know you’re right but I had a very hard time figuring
out a fun and creative way of discussing how inauthentic this film was
… I tried really hard but my thoughts were very scattered and
everything that came out seemed, well, as dumb as the movie itself.
Talking on the phone is hard because I’m in Big Sur but let’s try to
come up with something good together. Via e-mail?
From: Nick Dawson
To: Sophia Takal
Date: Monday, September 22, 2014 at 9:47 AM
Just sent you a Gchat invite, so maybe we can communicate that way?
I gotta run in a second…
But I have one small thought
Which is to make the struggle to write about the film part of the piece
The piece could even just be made up of different aborted attempts to write about the film?
I’m spitballing here…
yes! sounds good.