A GoPride Interview

Lynn Shelton

Lynn Shelton interview with ChicagoPride.com

Sat. June 16, 2012  by Gregg Shapiro

Lynn Shelton

lynn shelton

photo credit // chase jarvis

Sisters are doing it for themselves: an interview with filmmaker Lynn Shelton

Straight filmmaker Lynn Shelton sure likes the gays. Her 2009 comedic feature "Humpday" was about a hetero bromance that went to the next level. Without giving away too much about detail, in "Your Sister's Sister" (IFC Films), a film stocked with a variety of "reveals," lesbians get their due on screen. The movie shines a spotlight on strained sibling relationships and complicated friendships and doesn't offer any easy answers as it makes you laugh and cry and keeps you guessing. I spoke with Lynn Shelton in June 2012, shortly before "Your Sister's Sister" opened in theaters.

Your Sister's Sister" opens at a memorial service where Jack (Mark Duplass), the brother of the deceased Tom, doesn't share in the participants' need to speak well of the dead. Have you ever been at a memorial service where something like that happened?

LS: (Lynn Shelton) I've been at memorial services where people have drunk too much [laughs] and said things that have made other people uncomfortable. I think the thought behind the scene was a couple of different things. I like the idea of introducing the character in a way that you don't immediately follow love in love with him and maybe he makes the audience just as uncomfortable as the other people room. But then you eventually end up rooting for him. It's kind of like saying right at the outset, these people are flawed. Every one of them has their weaknesses and that's what makes us all human. But also it seems like he's saying something negative, but you also get in the process of his little speech that he really knew and loved his brother probably more than any of the other people in that room. He just wants him back, really, and he wants the whole person to be acknowledged, as opposed to this glorified, sanctified version. That's an extremely relatable kind of impulse for people.

GS: Jack has a number of problems, including alcohol. When Iris (Emily Blunt), Tom's ex-girlfriend and his best friend, offers to let him get away at her family's island retreat, alcohol plays a part in getting him into more trouble, this time with Iris' half-sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt). Are you trying to send viewers a cautionary message about drinking and responsibility?

LS: No, I really wasn't at all. It's a little confusing, because there is an initial talk. There is this memorial scene and there's this talk and Iris says, "This is your intervention." I was worried that people would think she was talking about an alcohol intervention, but it really wasn't. It was just that he had this year where he had just been mired emotionally and he's been acting self-destructive in general. It wasn't so much a drugs and alcohol kind of intervention, it was an emotional one. It's time to get your head together. It's true, when you are in really bad depression [laughs] alcohol's probably not going to be your best place to go.

GS: Hannah is a lesbian who has just left a seven year relationship. Why did you make Hannah a lesbian? Couldn't she just as easily have been a straight woman?

LS: The thing I liked about her being a lesbian, in that initial encounter with she and Jack, it definitely changes the timbre of their relationship. Sex is off the table. There's a certain level of rapport that they can have that if they were both straight and single and on the market, it's something different. I think the biggest delight about seeing the film is all the little reveals.

GS: Your previous film "Humpday," which also starred Mark Duplass, dealt with gay subject matter, too. What can you tell me about your interest in gay themes? Do you have a gay relative or something?

LS: [Laughs] My stepsister is a lesbian, yes. I've had dear friends who are both gay men and lesbians my whole life. I feel very at home in the gay community. I was an honorary lesbian when I was asked to understudy Lisa Kron of the New York theater group the Five Lesbian Brothers many years ago when I went on tour with them. I was like, "You are my family, you are my people." And I've had crushes on women. I remember them asking me, "Why aren't you a lesbian, Lynn?" (It's because) I fell in love with this guy [laughs]. Because I've always fallen for gay men and women my whole life, I've always been interested in the boundaries of sexual identity. There was a time in my life where I thought everybody must be bisexual. You should be able to just fall in love with anybody. And then I came to find out through the process of making "Humpday," that that is not true at all [laughs]. There are some people who are totally straight and totally gay and never the twain shall mix. I have to say it has been an interest of mine.

GS: You address sibling relationships "Your Sister's Sister," both Jack and Tom's and Hannah and Iris's. How would you describe your relationships?

LS: I describe them as incredibly boring and uncomplicated and pure love. So I really had to come at this project from the point of view of a sociologist or an outside observer. Because I have observed throughout my whole life really fascinating, intricate, layered, and deep relationships between siblings that I've been jealous of. There is this bond you can't replicate and yet there are so many layers hidden perhaps to the naked eye that would only be revealed through intimate conversations later about resentments of past betrayals or jealousy about whatever or competitive. I thought it was really rich territory.

GS: Was this movie a way for you to comment on the bonds you mentioned, both sisterly and female?

LS: Sure, I'm interested in men and women and people. Mike Leigh said that famously after being asked about making great movies with great female characters, "I make movies with great people and characters, that's what I do." I'm exactly the same way. I think of it as exploring this territory. I'm endlessly fascinated by human beings and by our relationships with the self and how the self shifts. How we have different masks that we show with different people as we try to connect, because we're so desperate to connect with others. I'm interested in those relationships are you want to connect it's complicated by various things. In "Humpday," here are these two straight guys who really love each other and want to be bonded the way they felt that bond in college, and yet they're straight guys so they can't, it's complicated for them. I find that incredibly poignant. Here are these two sisters (in "Your Sister's Sister") who clearly adore each other and yet they can't quite connect because of all of the stuff in between. That breaks my heart and draws me in again and again, that subject matter.

GS: There is a moment at the center of the film in which Hannah says she's "a really bad person." Do you think she is?

LS: No, I absolutely don't. She's a fallible human being. I totally relate to everybody in the film and everything they do. I don't condone or judge anybody, but I find them all incredibly human. And I can understand where they were at and where they were coming from when they do whatever they do.

GS: "Your Sister's Sister" ends on a mysterious note. Is there an alternate ending somewhere, perhaps on DVD or Blu-ray, where the mystery is solved, or did you always intend for it to be unanswered?

LS: [Laughs] I always wanted to end the film the way I ended it. That was always plan A.

GS: As I mentioned earlier, you have previously worked with Mark Duplass and you are working again with Rosemarie DeWitt on your next film. Please say something about working with the same actors more than once.

LS: My director of photography has now worked with me on five films and two web series. We've worked together endlessly. And the same with my sound guy, Vinny, who did the music for my last two films and is composing again for my new film. He was my boom operator on my very first feature and became my sound designer. I really enjoy having these relationships of collaboration and I find that, yes, you build a vocabulary together. I love that.

Your Sister's Sister is now playing in Chicago at Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark and in Evanston at Century 12 Evanston/CinéArts 6, 1715 Maple Ave.


Interviewed by Gregg Shapiro. Gregg Shapiro is both a literary figure and a music and literary critic. As an entertainment journalist, his work appears on ChicagoPride.com and is syndicated nationally.