By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Janicza Bravo with Grace Alie, Production Designer
A comedy about a hapless menopausal white male may seem a strange choice for a female Panamanian director to helm, but Janicza Bravo hits all the right notes in her first feature length film.
In “Lemon,” a film Bravo not only directs and co-wrote with her husband Brett Gelman, she’s certainly created a satisfying study in human nature. The first-time director will admit that straddling the director’s seat and getting the movie made was no easy task.
“The reality is that when you are walking into a space where you are being referred to as a first-time anything,” Bravo says of her experience, “people just kind of assume that you are a novice.
“And there is a degree of condescending and assuming that you don’t get it,” she adds. “That comes with the territory if you have the prefix first-time in front of the thing that you are doing.”
Starring Nia Long, Michael Cera and Judy Greer, “Lemon” follows Isaac Lachmann (Brett Gelman), a 40-year-old socially inept, self-absorbed failure who is unable to find happiness in anything. With an ailing acting career and a blind girlfriend of 10 years who barely tolerates his presence, Lachman is resigned to being a miserable man doomed to a life of obscurity.
“Brett in his maleness and whiteness feels incredibly strong,” says Bravo who penned the script five years ago, “but yet he keeps failing despite his many chances. You’re supposed to be the hero of your own life, but what do you do if you aren’t born with the tools?
“There are a lot of reasons it took a while to get made,” Bravo explains. “It is not a straight comedy, and there isn’t really a space for that. When Brett and I as writers started pitching this film, I didn’t really have a body of work, but over the last five years that it took, I made eight short films, but it still wasn’t enough. Trying to convince people I should have money to make this thing, not only as a woman, but a person of color wasn’t easy.”
The film premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival and then went on to screen at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. No stranger to Sundance, Bravo’s previous offering, the short “Gregory Go Boom” earned the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Award prize.
A quirky offering, “Lemon” is funny and often times whacky. Although there are several comedic scenes, one which involves Nia Long, who plays his Jamaican love interest, Bravo says she wasn’t aiming for pure laughs.
“It is not a straight comedy,” she says. “I call it an experimental comedy. I think it is a surreal comedy and it’s definitely absurd.”
With a musical score by composer Heather Christian, who Bravo has worked with in many of her previous shorts, “Lemon” includes a slice of dancehall music, which Bravo says pays homage to her roots.
“I grew up in Panama,” Bravo says, “and even though Spanish is my first language, dancehall music and reggaeton was very much a part of my childhood. That was the music I grew up with, and it was great to take these pieces from my childhood that had mattered so much to me. I wanted music to have a strong personality in the film.”
“Lemon” releases in Los Angeles on iTunes, OnDemand and Amazon Video Aug. 18, and in New York on Aug. 25.
Watch trailer below:
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