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.
I made a new friend last month. Her name is Mackenzie. I invited her to see the film with me and she agreed to come. We were seeing it at a special venue — a social club that costs $15,000 a year to join. The audience was a mixture of critics and club members. One lady, in her seventies, smelled wonderful, like a wealthy grandmother wearing fancy perfume. She was drinking a cosmopolitan and eating Swedish Fish, which she told me she got from the members-only bar upstairs. Another man was eating a hamburger with truffle fries. A waiter from the members-only restaurant delivered it to him on a platter.
Miss Julie was written by August Strindberg in 1888. It’s a play they make you read in high school and again in college, and a play that all actresses dream of being in. For people unfamiliar with the story, the play/movie goes something like this: an upper-class lady who is very pretty (here played by Jessica Chastain) is attracted to a servant or maybe she just likes toying with him because she is more powerful. Meanwhile, the servant (Colin Farrell) is in love with her or maybe he just likes toying with her and actually wants to steal all of her father’s money. Or maybe things are too ambiguous and sex and power are two sides of the same coin. Regardless, Miss Julie has to kill herself because she had sex with a servant the night before and there’s a small chance she might be pregnant, and also because she has brought her family disgrace by having sex before marriage, and a special kind of disgrace because he is a servant, not even upper-class.
I struggled to figure out a way to connect to the film. But I really couldn’t for the life of me relate to why Colin Farrell was so scared of Miss Julie. He was so scared that he was all sweaty and shaking whenever she approached him. Or why Miss Julie had to [SPOILER ALERT] kill herself the day after she had sex with him because she was worried that she might be pregnant rather than waiting a month to find out if she really was. Things have changed since the late 19th century and I couldn’t figure out why Liv Ullman decided to resurrect this play. I tried to connect it in my mind to any of the millions of things that are wrong in the world and see how this film was commenting on any of those things. I just couldn’t find my way into this movie enough to care about any of it.
After the screening I turned to Mack and said, “I wish we could sneak up to the members-only cocktail area and get a drink.” I didn’t think we could because that area was off-limits and only open to people who were very rich and fancy like the old lady. But before I knew it, I was following Mackenzie onto an elevator going to the second floor. We waltzed right into the cocktail lounge. My heart was racing. I was sure we were going to get kicked out. This was a place for only rich people!!! I was shaking just like Colin Farrell shook when he was too close to the fancy lady in the movie!
We ordered fancy wine and I felt like Colin Farrell drinking the Baron’s wine. I ate a lot of nuts because I couldn’t afford the truffle fries.
The waitress eventually realized we didn’t belong to the club. She told us she was going to have to “present us” with a check. Which she did. The two glasses of wine were very expensive and even if you pay $15,000 to join the club you still have to pay for the wine. The only difference is they just don’t present you with a check, it gets charged to your account. The $15,000 is just to make sure riffraff can’t join you at the bar and so you can see Miss Julie a few days before it hits theaters and not pay for the ticket. Just like the master’s quarters in Miss Julie are there to protect you from the servants down below, this social club existed to protect the very elite.
The waitress said she had been working at the club for five years. Prior to that she worked at a place in Times Square called Zanzibar, which had recently been turned into Southern Hospitality. Southern Hospitality is a restaurant that Justin Timberlake owns. I couldn’t believe it!
Realizing we weren’t welcome at this fancy club, we quickly headed over to Southern Hospitality. There, we imagined we would feel relaxed and comfortable and not uptight around rich people. Which was probably how Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton (who plays his fiancée, the cook) felt before Miss Julie burst into their kitchen and ruined their fun.
We arrived. The hostess greeted us.
“Does Justin Timberlake own this restaurant?” I blurted to the hostess.
“Yes,” she answered with ennui.
“Does it annoy you that people ask that?” asked Mackenzie.
“No, I’m used to it. The Real Housewives own a restaurant and I used to work there,” she confessed. (It’s in Hoboken and it’s the sons of some of the Real Housewives of New Jersey.)
She sat us at a booth near the window. A waiter came over and again we asked, “Does Justin Timberlake own this restaurant?” (He used to.)
“What happened?” (He sold his portion. But he’s still involved.)
“How is he still involved?” (By association. And we sell his tequila.)
“Do you get asked that a lot?” (No.)
“What percentage of people that you serve ask you about Justin Timberlake?” (five percent.)
“Would you give JT a note if I wrote one for him?” (No.)
“How long have you worked here?” (Three years.)
“Do you remember when this used to be Zanzibar?” (Yes, I lived up the street.)
“Did you go to Zanzibar?” (No, no one went to Zanzibar, that’s why it closed.)
“Where are you from?” (Philly.)
“Why did you move to New York?” (I’m an actor and writer.)
“Have you seen Miss Julie?” (No.)
“Are the fried pickles good?” (Sure.)
Now we were Miss Julie. The waiter stood there for quite a long time dutifully answering our questions just as Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton had answered all of Miss Julie’s requests! We forced him to answer our asinine questions simply because we could! He had to answer us!
My stomach hurt the entire night. I kept burping up fried pickles and weird tortilla flavors.
The next day I received this e-mail from Mackenzie:
Just as Miss Julie had to die for her sins, we were punished for ours.