Religion, homosexuality and living up to the lofty expectations of a parent are at the core of the new independent film, The Perfect Family. In the film, which hit the gay film festival circuit last summer but is now being released in theaters, Catholic Woman of the Year candidate Eileen Cleary (Kathleen Turner) is determined to win but has to figure out how to create that “perfect family” with her recovering alcoholic husband (Michael McGrady), irresponsible son (Jason Ritter) as well as the surprise that her daughter (Bones star Emily Deschanel) is gay and about to marry her girlfriend (Angelique Cabral).
Out director Anne Renton, whose short Love Is Love featured Jane Lynch and looked at a world where gay was normal and straight was the exception, has not only assembled a group of top-notch actors but also has much to say about the variety of the issues that make up the film in an intelligent and complex way, much as they are in life.
AfterEllen.com sat down with Renton and Deschanel in Los Angeles last week during the film’s press junket to chat about the film and to ask Deschanel if it’s a family quest to play gay since sister Zooey Deschanel played gay in the film, My Idiot Brother.
AfterEllen.com: Anne, tell me the basis for Eileen and how you approached directing the character in the film.
All photos courtesy of Variance Films
AE: Shannon is such a complex character, Emily, and very different from Brennan on Bones. Was that a nice relief to do something different?
AE: Was there a different approach to playing a gay character?
AE: Some big things happen in the movie that serves as the impetus to push Shannon to finally come out to her family. Can you talk about that?
AE: Anne, in your short film, Love Is Love,you look at straight and gay and how society looks at both of those. Obviously that’s a subject that means something to you because it’s a big part of this one as well.
AE: One of the things I liked in the film is that the church is not the villain in the movie. Was that something that attracted both of you to the project?
AR: It’s something that we really worked on in all the rewrites we did on the original. I have to say, it was really, really important that that wasn’t how it came across — it’s about the humanity of all the characters and the situations that were going on. So, yeah, it was very intentional and certainly something that felt important to me. [looking to Emily] is it for you in terms of reading it?
ED: Yes and also personally growing up Catholic and the church that I went to growing up, they say you’re welcome if you’re gay in this church. It’s not what the main Catholic Church says. But I just know [there are] so many individuals who are wonderful and accepting of all people in the church and I’ve had wonderful experiences. So it was important to me to not bash the church, too. It was more interesting to me that it wasn’t so black and white and that it wasn’t bashing. That’s not the enemy in this movie. You kind of see [and] accept that everyone has to accept each other. Shannon has to accept her mother and her mother’s belief in the church, as much as her mother has to accept her. And I like that a lot.
AE: Now your sister, Zooey, just played a gay character in My Idiot Brother.
AE: Now you’re playing a gay character. Is this a family thing that you’re each trying to knock that off of the actors’ bucket list?
AE: You’re also playing a lot of pregnant characters lately with this movie and in Bones and you just had a baby in real life.
AE: Some movies tend to get labeled a “gay movie” but do you take issue with that label? Do you think that’s a plus or a minus if somebody does call it a gay film?
[Emily shakes her head, no]
AR: I don’t know. I don’t necessarily have an issue with it but I feel it’s a film about a family and that’s what’s the most important piece for me. So I do think sometimes when films get labeled as gay films it means that maybe a more mainstream audience isn’t going to relate to it or even want to see it. So I certainly want this film to be a film that a mainstream audience will go to and enjoy, whether gay, straight, whatever — an inclusive audience.
ED: I think anyone could relate to this film because people have people in their family who are like Kathleen’s character. They have people in their family or they themselves may be like Shannon’s character — gay, straight, whatever — just people who love each other who conflict for different reasons, whether it’s religion, or belief system that’s not religious or anything. I mean these kinds of conflicts happen all over the world. I don’t think it’s limited in any way.
AE: Emily, are you planning anything to do with your friend Liz Feldman, because now she’s doing 2 Broke Girls [Feldman is writer/producer] but Zooey’s sitcom, New Girl, may have to come before that, right?
The Perfect Family opens in NY and LA theaters and is also available on VOD starting May 4. For more VOD information, visit the website.