A children’s film from the director of “Smashed” and “The End of the Tour”? As he tells IndieWire, it really makes sense.
James Ponsoldt expects this question. Why did the guy who made movies like ‘Smashed’, ‘The Spectacular Now’ and ‘The End of the Tour’ – dark knowing dramas about screwed up adults typically with drug problems and a variety of neuroses – turn his attention to ‘Summering’ , a film about four tween girls in the dying days of their favorite season?
He’s got the answer: he’s a father of three, his wife Megan works in the public school system, and he wants to share that with his family.
But the real answer? It’s still a James Ponsoldt film. It’s not as gritty as its predecessors, but the filmmaker still uses his craft to ask some very profound questions. “Summering” ends up being about a group of girls (Lia Barnett, Sanai Victoria, Madalen Mills and Eden Grace Redfield) who discover one very dead and has to deal with what to do next. (Not surprisingly, the film drew many comparisons to Stand By Me when it premiered at Sundance last January.)
“I’ve always been very interested in those conversations between parents and children trying to understand each other, sometimes more or less successfully,” he said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “A lot of the conversations I have now are trying to explain to kids what’s completely upside down about the world and to realize that a lot of the time I don’t have good answers. In some cases, they have a much more accurate, less jaded, more truthful perspective than I do.”
Ponsoldt added that a friend recently reminded him that his Columbia University graduation film Junebug and Hurricane — oh, Yes! – also about a single mother and daughter (Janeane Garofalo played the mother). The inclination towards younger protagonists and their concerns may seem new to him, but it isn’t. Neither does the inherent drama of the stories he tells.
Ponsoldt said he enjoyed a culturally rich childhood — his grandfather, William Teason, painted book covers (like the Agatha Christie reprints of the ’60s and ’70s) and occasionally movie posters, while his older sister introduced him to horror films like “Evil Dead II.” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” “When I was a kid, I had a subscription to Fangoria magazine and I kept begging my parents to let me watch horror movies,” he said, adding with a laugh, “My parents were pretty open to a certain extent, but they regretted admitting it I’m watching ‘Exorcist’ too early.”
The emergence of “Summering,” said Ponsoldt, arose out of real-life horror. “A man was found dead not far from our home in Los Angeles and has not been identified. To my knowledge, he has still not been identified,” Ponsoldt said. What stuck in his mind was the notion that “one cannot even be given the dignity of being named when they die. It felt like a sign of a much larger cultural breakdown and some sort of our social contract. It was a catalyst for conversations with my family and with my children.”
Ponsoldt said he was inspired by films ranging from Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Virgin Suicides to Forbidden Games and Spirit of the Beehive. He wanted to do something he has not seen much in American cinema: a film “anchored principally by the subjectivity of a young woman’s experience, not just of coming of age, but of her first touches with mortality and death, at an age that is definitely before puberty.”
As a film about mortality and death, it’s much easier to see how Summering fits in alongside films like alcoholism drama Smashed and David Foster Wallace’s semi-biopic The End of the Tour. Still, Ponsoldt says even he struggles to make connections between his works.
“I’m not aware of issues that are common from one thing to another, it takes other people to point them out to me,” he said. “But everything I do and every story I develop, there’s always something deep at the core of something the protagonist wrestles with that’s very personal to me. It’s usually something that excites me, haunts me, something I want to grapple with.”
After receiving rave reviews for Smashed, The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour, all sold to distributors after their Sundance Film Festival debut, Ponsoldt took on his biggest gig yet: directing and adapting. The Circle” from the novel of the same name by Dave Eggers, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson.
The film, funded by EuropaCorp and STX Entertainment, premiered at Tribeca in 2017 and was Ponsoldt’s first film to hit the festival circuit with a permanent distribution. It proved to be Ponsoldt’s biggest box-office hit ($40 million) but received the worst reviews of his career (16 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).
When asked how he felt after The Circle, Ponsoldt said he’s busy concentrating on his next project, Facebook Watch drama Sorry for Your Loss, starring Elizabeth Olsen. That might sound like a distraction, but when the filmmaker mentions the show’s themes, about a woman dealing with the sudden death of her husband, it sounds like he’s processing some pain over the film’s reception.
“After ‘The Circle,’ I was already working on ‘Sorry for Your Loss,’ which we’d been working on for years,” Ponsoldt said. “A show about trauma and recovery, a half-hour show about it grief. That was a lot where my head was and it was deeply, deeply personal to me. So when something comes out, I’m talking about one thing, but I’m already thinking about another thing.”
One thing Ponsoldt has yet to do is direct a real blockbuster while avoiding the career path taken by many of his contemporaries. (The original director of The Spectacular Now, Marc Webb, actually left that film when he was hired to direct The Amazing Spider-Man, opening the door to Ponsoldt.) Ponsoldt said he was for various franchises -Companies have been involved. but it wasn’t for him.
“My friends who do these things, whether it’s Marvel or the ‘Star Wars’ universe, they all have very specific voices,” he said. “These filmmakers were able to bring their personal voice and put their fingerprints on things, but they have one thing in common: They really love these characters and love this sandbox to play in… the time it takes to make a movie.” you have to be really invested. During this process, it has to have its hooks in your heart and in your psyche for you to do well and for you to make sense of it.”
He added: “For me, it all comes down to character. So do I always connect to a character? The thing they connect with or wrestle with, is it something that speaks to me? I think people can make deeply personal $200 million movies and people can make personal $2,000 movies and everything in between. I don’t judge one against the other.”
It’s all a very Ponsoldtian way of saying “maybe this world isn’t for me,” but he likes to play somewhere else, like the world of television. He’s currently working on two series for streamers that he expects to release in 2023: the Amazon series Daisy Jones & The Six, based on the best-selling novel about a fictional rock band by Taylor Jenkins Reid and Riley Keough and Apple’s therapy comedy Shrinking, starring Jason Segel, Jessica Williams and Harrison Ford. Ponsoldt pointed out that both shows are about “adults and adult themes,” but through a broad lens.
He notes a lack of “multi-generational dynamics” on each platform. Ponsoldt grew up with his friends and He attended local hospices full of elderly people where his mother worked as a volunteer. Today he spends time with his children and his wife and his parents. where are these stories
“In a lot of cases it feels like, ‘Well, if you can’t cast a 25-35 year old movie star, there’s no place for these stories,'” he said. “Everything I’m going to say is a generalization, but in many ways these stories can now be found on streaming television. … I don’t think that’s gone from movies. I really hope that’s not the case because I will keep trying to make these films.”
He added, “We all benefit from films that have multiple subjectivities, and if we don’t, we’re just going to get stuck. I will keep trying to make films about people my age, about kids, about old people, about everything in between.”
A Bleecker Street release, Summering, is in theaters now.
https://www.indiewire.com/2022/08/james-ponsoldt-summering-interview-1234750670/ James Ponsoldt turns to “Summering” after the adult tariff – interview