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San Diego International Film Festival — (and why you should see ENTANGLEMENT)

Last night turned out to be what I’m sure, will be my favorite moment of the San Diego International Film Festival. That’s because I got to talk to the screenwriter of one of my favorite movies of 2017 — Jason Filiatrault who wrote Entanglement. And, it was the “Variety Night of the Stars.”

I got to see Patrick Stewart give a moving speech about acting, before he received the Gregory Peck Award. It was also amazing to hear that as a kid he saw Peck in Moby Dick and that’s what made him want to pursue it as a career. Later he’d receive a phone call from Peck, and they’d become friends.

It was nice to see Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley). He got the Auteur Award for his terrific romantic comedy The Big Sick. It’s a terrific film, and his speech was one of the funniest I’ve ever heard anyone give at an awards show. He joked about the Chargers leaving San Diego. He even joked about what an “auteur” is. The crowd was in stitches.

Blake Jenner, who was so good as the older brother in The Edge of Seventeen and Everybody Wants Some, got the “Rising Star Award.” He gave a touching speech, which is always nice to hear from a younger actor.

Heather Graham got the Virtuoso Award, and I happened to be sitting at a table with David Martin and his wife Rosemary. He put together the reel that was shown of Graham’s films. She’s in two of my all-time favorites — Boogie Nights and Swingers. But when I talked to her after the show I had to tell her how under appreciated the boxing movie Diggstown is (starring James Woods, Lou Gossett, Jr., Bruce Dern).

My night was capped off with an email exchange I had with the immensely talented Jason Filiatraut. You see, I’ve seen a lot of great films at the San Diego International Film Festival this year, but my favorite…is not only my favorite at the Festival, but it’s perhaps the best movie I’ve seen all year. That includes all the big screen blockbusters like Blade Runner, Baby Driver, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Logan, Wind River etc.). The movie would be Entanglement. It starred Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley, The Bronze) as a suicidal guy that’s on meds, and goes on a bizarre quest to find his “adopted” sister. It’s one of the most humorous movies you’ll see this year. It’s also very touching. My emotions were put through the ringer. My wife and I couldn’t stop laughing at the shenanigans going on in this picture. I was talking to one of the producers and he said they were working on getting US distribution. And when it comes out, I’ll be writing a longer review than I did previously. I’ll even make this offer I’ve done before, but very seldomly. I’ll tell people to go see the movie, and if they don’t like it, I’ll give them free tickets to see another movie of their choice. I’m that confident that they’ll like it.

Lucky for all you San Diego folks, you can go see it this weekend at the San Diego International Film Festival. It’ll be playing again Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at the Regal in Horton Plaza. Go, and thank me later.

Anyway, I tracked down the writer of this fine film — Jason Filiatrault. I emailed him a few questions, and these were his responses.

JOSH BOARD: This cast was perfect. When I read a book that screenwriter William Goldman wrote, he mentioned that when they assembled the cast for his The Princess Bride, he thought the group looked awful. Yet as soon as they started doing the table read, he thought they were perfect. In this movie, Middleditch at first seemed like some slacker I’d have a hard time sympathizing with, but he’s so humorous, and not just feeling sorry for himself. And when we see his angry alter-ego yelling back at him in the mirror…you realize this guy can really act. Jess Weixler as the love interest/adopted sister, is perfect. We think she’s cute, and a bit flighty, but not in a way that make us not like her or feel that she’s bad news for him. So, what can you tell me about the cast and your opinions of the people saying the words you’ve written?

JASON FILIATRAULT: Thomas was… perfect. Honestly, we were so fortunate that he responded to the script and that he and Jason James (director) were on the same wavelength and that he bought into the film we wanted to make. He was the first person we thought of and just embodied that excitable sadness that his character has in the movie. He’s fantastic, and I think he shows so many more shades and so much more talent than people might be used to seeing from him. He’s great. Such an actor and such a hard worker.

As for Jess Weixler — she just got the role so perfectly, and if you’ve seen the movie you know it’s not as simplistic a part as it might seem from the outset. But Jess was just so trusting and open and willing to dive in and really play up the fun parts and the dark bits. And the NICEST person in the world.

Also I have to mention Diana Bang, who plays Tabby. I only knew her from Seth Rogen’s “The Interview” where she plays this broad over-the-top character and seeing her in this, just being so real and vulnerable and precise… it was a joy. She’s the best secret weapon in Canada.

For a writer, especially on my first feature, to have this kind of talent – it was ridiculously awesome. I was spoiled and they were all so generous and dedicated. It was a dream come true.

JOSH BOARD: I’m glad you mentioned Diana Bang. The Interview was an underrated comedy, and she was great in that. The love scene with her and Rogen was one of the funniest in years. I like that their friendship feels real, and not like a fake, movie friendship. It’s also nice that you have an Asian playing a character that…could’ve been any race. These are the types of things minority actors want to see more of. Asians that aren’t just playing a computer nerd or ninja, but playing regular parts that usually go to white actors.  

Is there anything you wrote with these characters that made the cutting room floor? I often hear about screenwriters being upset about that, or begrudgingly editing something out for time.

JASON FILIATRAULT: There’s a few moments that definitely didn’t make the cut. Editing is always a tough process. You’re really finding the film and making something totally different, so there’s always going to be things you lose along the way. For Entanglement it was all about focussing the film more and more on Thomas’s character and how important it is to be inside his head, so to speak. So anything that pulled us away from Thomas or made us feel like we could just back out of his reality, had to go.

As for being upset about it – Never. The words are never the point. I don’t write scripts to make good scripts, I write to make good movies, and editing is a huge part of that process.

JOSH BOARD: How hard is it to write a screenplay?

JASON FILIATRAULT: Writing a screenplay is easy. Writing a great screenplay is very hard. I would imagine. I’ve never done it. I think I wrote a mostly good one, and that was fairly hard – in that it took careful planning and thinking and a lot of concentration… but, it’s not that bad. It’s a job like anything – you just do it and try to make it better than it needs to be.

JOSH BOARD: Everyone says comedy is the hardest thing to write and I agree. You have moments in this movie that amazed me with how funny they were. I think the audience might not get some. Others might not think they’re appropriate. For example, somebody attempting suicide in a humorous way. Do you run those by people first?

JASON FILIATRAULT: I think the best comedy, and the best jokes, they are not for everyone. My favourite jokes are for, maybe, five people in the audience and the rest just don’t get it. Because I think we all want to think a joke was written just for us. This movie is definitely not for “everyone” but I think the comedy is pretty accessible if you’re in the mood. I mean, dark comedy – life, death, mental illness, suicide, depression, love, fear… these are all pretty funny things to me.

JOSH BOARD: A follow up question to that…the only humorous suicide scene I can recall on film was a Billy Wilder movie (Buddy Buddy) where Jack Lemmon makes so much noise, that the hitman next door (Walter Matthau) can’t concentrate on his job. I loved it. That makes me wonder…were there any scenes in this movie inspired by something you’ve seen before?

JASON FILIATRAULT: A huge movie for me, especially in relation to this, is Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment” — which also deals with depression and suicide in a very different way. But comedy about depression isn’t that unheard of. Charlie Kaufman for sure deals in it, as do Wes Anderson and Woody Allen and Hal Ashby and Maria Bamford… the list is kind of endless. Good comedy is about extremes, and there’s something funny about being so low that you’ve got nowhere else to go but up.

JOSH BOARD: Yeah, now that you mention it…I do recall a hysterical scene in a Woody Allen movie where he’s working on a documentary about a brilliant professor who jumps out of the window one day, and he’s surprised by how short the suicide note is. It was funny. But since we’re talking Billy Wilder, and he’s done some of my all-time favorite movies, name five of your favorite comedies of all time.

JASON FILIATRAULT: Oh geez…this list changes every day. Okay: Some Like It Hot, Rushmore, Juno, the Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, and… let’s say Obvious Child. Plus like, five hundred others.

JOSH BOARD: Some Like it Hot is on my list, too. I dug Rushmore, but felt it was highly overrated. I’d take Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom over that. Juno was good, but I felt like the screenwriter was trying so hard to be hip, that it made the teenager a bit unrealistic. And all the characters had the same voice. But hell…she won an Oscar for that script, so what do I know. Seriously, your movie is better than both those. Obvious Child is so damn good. I was so ticked off when I excitedly told my wife about it after I saw it at a screening, and when I took her a few weeks later…she wasn’t impressed. Morgan’s Creek…I have no clue what that is, but if you liked it, I’m curious to seek it out.

JOSH BOARD: What age were you when people started telling you that you’re a good writer, or had a good sense of humor?

JASON FILIATRAULT: Um… I was always pretty literate and could turn a decent phrase. I was an only child, too, and pretty nerdy, so that all made me weird. Let’s say… 10? There abouts. I think you just kind of grow up into it. If you can do something well as a kid, you want to do it a lot because you crave attention. Or I did, anyway.

JOSH BOARD: Because I’m obsessed with The Kids in the Hall, I have to ask about Young Drunk Punk, since you wrote an episode. Did you work with Bruce McCulloch on that at all?

JASON FILIATRAULT: I did work with Bruce and he was fantastic! He’s got such a unique mind and is so focussed and dedicated to the job. I learned a lot working for him. It’s honestly impossible to be in a room with him and not become a better writer. He made me super-nervous and I was always awkward around him, but he was great.

JOSH BOARD: There were certain things I wanted to ask about the movie but didn’t, so I wouldn’t spoil things for the audience that hasn’t seen it. Is there anything else about the movie you’d like to add?

JASON FILIATRAULT: I just want to say that I hope the people that like Entanglement spread the word. It’s hard for movies to find an audience these days without a 20 million dollar marketing budget, so word of mouth matters a lot and everyone who worked on this, all the cast and crew from top to bottom – they all worked so hard and really for the love of filmmaking, I just hope as many people see this and find something to love in it.