By Gary M. Kramer.
Tumbledown, directed and written, respectively, by the husband and wife team of Sean Mewshaw and Desi Van Til, premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The film has Hannah (Rebecca Hall) meeting cute with Andrew (Jason Sudeikis) who wants to write a book about the former’s late husband, Hunter, a musician who produced only one album. Andrew, a New York City professor, slowly becomes accustomed to Hannah’s small town Maine, as the pair grudgingly work together. They also, and not unexpectedly, fall in love. Tumbledown may be predictable in its culture-clash comedy, but some viewers will find this rom-com as comfortable as an old flannel shirt.
The film pokes fun at stereotypes of academics, writers, musicians, and people from Maine? What can you say about the characters?
SM: We wanted to hit them all right on the head! We both have English degrees.
DVT: I’m the child of an academic, and Sean is the son of an author.
SM: So it was very much writing about people we knew—and loved. I think either of us could have gone into academia ourselves.
DVT: I still think I probably will. [Laughs]. If it takes another eight years to make a movie, I might finally get that PhD. Except all my professors at school said, “If you can find any other profession before going into academia, try that first.”
SM: The stereotypes are all loving portraits of those characters. Desi’s ambition in writing about Maine was not to caricaturize these people.
DVT: I wanted to celebrate my hometown. When I was beginning to write the screenplay, there were so many [people I knew] that made it into the final draft. My hometown was populated by really colorful characters. Curtis (Joe Manganiello) was based on a real person. Upton (Griffin Dunne), the man who runs the bookstore, is my old boss at the bookstore I worked at all through high school. He’s still there. I hope that the main characters, or stereotypes don’t feel stereotypical, because what I always find myself pushing back from is the kind of bitter condescension that happens in a small town or rural places.
Why do you think Hannah let Andrew in?
DVT: She’s an academic herself, and when she stole his notebook and felt that of all the people sniffing around and hounding her, all of a sudden, she saw somebody who was breaking down the lyrics, and his songs in a way that she really responded to. And she was at this breaking point of feeling helpless and realized that if she were going to get anywhere….She realized that was lying to herself to finish this book. She can’t bear it. So she has Upton lead the horse to water, but because it struck a chord with her that someone else understood or got her late husband…
SM: …Or was trying to, to dedicate serious thought or emotional fluency to someone she loves so much. That affinity for the same man. Where their love comes from, that spark, is that [Andrew] is nothing like Hunter. He was, in my mind at least, a rugged man in the woods of Maine and took inspiration and wrote beautiful songs. She likes the challenge of how aggressive Andrew is, his snark, and I feel like that’s how to get her to a place where she wanted to try something new and different.
DVT: In the beginning she is as dismissive of him as he is of most people from rural Maine.
Why did you feel the characters needed to fall in love? Could the film worked without that element?
SM: I agree with you that they didn’t have to fall in love, but we were experimenting with this notion that they both love the same man. They had this love triangle where they were both obsessed with Hunter in their own way and that obsession started to bleed into each other.
DVT: They were combining vectors. They were focused on the same other man.
SM: Will they live happily ever after?
DVT: He is destructive to her stasis, and that’s what’s important. She’s in this morass of this hamster wheel of futility, of trying to get over her loss, and doing the same old same old thing. She is trying to remember all these bits and pieces of her life. He is the disruptive force that comes in. He may be the person that blasted her through that phase…who knows what happens? But I think that the impossible task she’s set herself up to do—writing this biography—she can let that project go because of what happens.
I like that Hunter was just heard as a voice in the film, and not have him appear as a ghost or in flashbacks. Can you talk about that decision?
DVT: Sean fought for that.
SM: I did. There were versions of the script that had flashbacks, or that had her showing Andrew home video.
DVT: There’s a scene of them going through pictures, and she’s sort of annoyed that he’s manhandling them too roughly. That came out.
SM: I wanted to see how far we could get with just his voice. I think it’s more haunting. And I thought that maybe we could elicit in the audience some same feeling of longing that she feels, wanting to know more, wanting to have more of him. Not sure if that succeeds or not, but that was, notionally, where we came from. We do show a little glimpse of him here or there, because we have to ground it slightly in an actual person, but as you get through the movie, he’s just a voice.
What are your thoughts about the idea of closure, which is prominent in the film?
Hannah refuses to have closure regarding Hunter.
DVT: When she turns in the copy [of her book] to Upton, it’s a disaster, a real mess. There is no way that you can cram all of that love and all of that minutia that you want to hold on to into a couple dozen thousand words.
SM: Or anything that anybody else would be interested in reading or care about. It’s such a personal odyssey for her to attack this task. But I feel that she doesn’t need closure, or need to solve this problem in this film—nor does she need to fall in love. To me, I felt it was more interesting—I love films that end, and there are these wonderful chapters to follow. I just wanted to bring them to the point where they wanted to take a risk on each other, and she was going to open herself to possibility.
Gary M. Kramer is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and co-editor of the recently published Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.