“I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore” won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in January and with good reason. First-time writer-director Macon Blair created a gem that mashes up a comedy-crime-revenge-thriller buddy film wrapped in a female-driven plot that may be the first film ever to crush the notion ‘retard’ is a funny word. The film stars, the always awesome, Melanie Lynskey as Ruth, a depressed woman whose life is reinvigorated after she begins investigating the burglary of her home aided by her neighbor (Elijah Wood, amazing by the way.) And—it’s on Netflix right now!
I contacted Macon and asked if I could interview him about the use of the R-word in his film, among other things. I assured him I was not a big shot but a mother, author, and cinephile. He said yes.
I love your film! I was riveted from the start — then at about one hour in, Meredith’s husband yells at her: “Meredith, are you retarded?” The glorious and righteous Meredith yells back: “What? Don’t you dare use the R-word around me!”
I had to watch that scene three times — laughing harder each time. The word retarded is typically used in films as a humorous putdown—acceptably I might add. I have a son with Down syndrome. I don’t think the word is funny. What you wrote was brilliant! That line was true to Meredith’s character. It was not pious but hilarious and angry and awesome. I was delighted. I want to know more about that.
I think while I was trying to just tell a pretty straightforward crime story, I wanted the driving idea to be about “being good” as opposed to, say, revenge or money or power or things like that which usually tend to drive crime stories. Point being, I always thought that Meredith (like Ruth) would have a very clearly defined sense of what is okay and what is not okay. She may be married to a sleazy crook for his money but, even so, she will not abide cruel words.
And choosing that as the thing that causes Meredith to raise her voice would frame her character in a way that I really liked. (In retrospect, I wish I had given Meredith more scenes…she seems to be an audience favorite.)
Christine Woods as Meredith is terrific! It’s interesting you decided that would be the cruel word. You could have framed her objection in response to a racial slur or a homophobic one. Or so many others really. Why that one?
Mainly, I wanted to establish Chris Rumack as a bit of a poisonous bastard as quickly as possible. He’s trying to insult Meredith’s intelligence and that word feels like a shorthand for ignorant people who are calling someone else stupid. So with just a few words out of his mouth, the audience gets that he’s bad news. And, at the same time, we get a little peek into Meredith’s state of mind, which is probably something along the lines of “I married this guy because he’s rich but he’s such a jerk and I’m sick of it.”
The other line I wrote down while watching the film is Ruth saying: “I just want people not to be assholes.” You touched on that before– you wanted her motivation to be about goodness. Tell me more.
I just thought that would be a fun motive to drive a character. On one hand, it sounds noble, Ruth isn’t after money or even punishment, necessarily, she just wants the world to be a little kinder to itself. On the other hand, it’s an impossible goal. There’s no way she’s going to get what she wants, so the story (I hope) becomes about figuring out how to live with the fact that people, to some degree, are always going to be out of line and are you going to let that make you crazy or not.
Melanie Lynskey’s Ruth is what is now identified as a ‘strong female protagonist’ Did you intentionally set out to have a complex female lead for your first film?
No, I just wanted strong and complex characters in general, male or female. I think I decided that this character was going to be a woman because, for some reason I can’t articulate, I wanted her to be in the nursing profession. I think that had to do with the idea of someone being a professional caretaker who has grown weary of taking care of people. Of course men can be in the nursing profession, too, but on a gut level it just made sense to me that this was a woman we were talking about. I try and make everyone in the story as dimensional as I can, whether they are the lead or a small character with only one line, so I don’t think I was really giving myself a specific mandate for a “strong female protagonist.” Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what that means. Does it mean tough? Does it mean violent? Does it mean willful? I feel like the best I can do is just to try and make the character feel real, however it makes sense for the story, whether that means they are meek and fearful or a hard charging badass or whatever they need to be.
That’s a really good explanation of the difference between ‘strong’ and complex.’ More than one reviewer compare your film to Falling Down (1993). I don’t remember laughing once during Falling Down. I love Ruth but I hated Michael Douglas’s character. Ruth is a sympathetic character considering her flaws. Was that important?
I’m not as interested in someone being likable, in the sense that you’d want to invite them over to your house to hang out. But I do want you to get invested in what they are going after–even if you’re cringing at the mistakes they make, or even if you disagree with how they are going about things, I just want you to feel tied up in this character getting what they want. And if that includes you “liking” them as a person, that’s great, but the more important thing to me is that you care about what comes next for them.
It’s a buddy movie! A female/male one at that! The only other example of a male without another male buddy film I could find was Turner and Hooch (1989). For those that haven’t seen the film, one of them is a dog and the other is Tom Hanks. Please share how you came to that decision and how did ended up pairing Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood?
I had them in mind as I was working on the script. I just love their collection of work, I thought they would both feel like a bit of fun counter-casting (Melanie going a dark genre type of movie, and Elijah playing a kind of screwy loner) and they both are just really charismatic on screen. I don’t know that I can specify detailed reasons, the combination just felt right in my head.
Related question– whose idea was it for Elijah Wood to have a rat tail?
I suggested it, because my friend in high school Brian had a long rattail and I just felt like it would communicate so much about this guy without him saying anything. The commitment it takes to grow a rattail like that? I thought you’d kind of understand this dude just by looking at him.
Buddy films sometimes follow a construct that one character is more grounded in whatever reality is and the other isn’t. It was hard for me to tell for a while. It’s Wood right?
I think they both have their perceptions of the world which are both valid, to them. Ruth sees the world as a mess, and there is no God, and humans are the worst and we’re all doomed and there’s no justice and it’s all chaos. Tony sees the world as orderly, there is such a thing as right and wrong and they are very clear, and there is a God and there is a purpose for us and it’s all going to be okay in the end. And I wasn’t trying to say that either one of these is the correct answer, it’s just about two kind of lonesome people who get a chance to connect and share themselves (and their take on things) with each other. Ruth likes to get loaded and dance on the table. Tony likes to practice karate and go to church. They share those things with each other and feel less alone.
Who is your favorite female protagonist?
Oh jeez, just one?! That’s impossible to answer but off the top of my head: Ruth Gordon in Harold & Maude. Or Susan Tyrell in Fat City!
I laughed throughout your film and watched a lot of the violence peeking through my fingers because I’m a wimp but I never once looked away. Your film is like the Big Lebowski for me– which my family and I watch every Thanksgiving. I could see watching yours every Easter.
Yeah. Lebowski feels like a perfect Thanksgiving movie. Happy Easter!
I’m going to amend my holiday choice– I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore should be watched every year on Bastille Day because you have freed your audience from the tyranny of the R-word and you created Ruth who drives the action. Thank you.
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