Think This is 40 or Bridesmaids meets Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? meets lesbians, and you get Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf? (WAVW), the new dark comedy by Anna Margarita Albelo. Written by Michael Urban (Saved!) and starring Albelo, The L Word alums Guinevere Turner and Janina Gavankar, Agnes Olech, Carrie Preston and Celeste Pechous, WAVW is a semi-autobiographical inquiry into the existential crisis of a 40-year-old lesbian looking to “have it all.”
“Having it all,” meaning both professional (career) success and personal (love) success, has been heavily bandied about in the media recently, having been deemed the cultural conundrum of women in the 21st century. While “having it all” may arguably rest on a false dichotomy, it’s nevertheless one that has been used to gauge individual happiness, and it is precisely where Albelo’s character, Anna, begins her self-analysis and reflection the moment she turns 40. Anna has three life goals: to make a move, to get a girlfriend, and to lose 20 pounds. But throughout her adult life she has been unable to negotiate the balance between work and love. WAVW is a humorous inquiry into this negotiation or balance; Anna’s story is a working through of the psychological blockages to having it all—or, for her, seeing that she’s already “had it all” all along.
Up until this moment in her life Anna decided to sacrifice love for a filmmaking career, hoping that “getting a girlfriend” would be a by-product of a successful career. Yet, she laments, “ten years later, no dice.” In fact, she doesn’t seem to have either a girlfriend or a successful filmmaking career. This realization sets Anna into a self-reflective, and semi-self-indulgent, navel-gazing spiral in which she decides to make a film in order to woo Katia Amour (played by Gavankar), a seductive graduate student with a penchant for academic jargon who makes Anna go weak in the knees as well as in the lady-parts. But this muse, Anna learns, is a fabrication of the illusion that Anna has been living; her journey throughout WAVW entails the process of her coming to see herself at first mirrored in this illusion, and then through this illusion, to a self that she has avoided and neglected for a host of reasons, including internalized homophobia. Anna’s psychological denouement only arrives through a tough but touching discussion with her mother; only then can she break this self-effacing narrative.
This film is wholly unique in its thematic focus and in its creative employment of Albee’s domestic tragedy as a frame narrative. WAVW is dark and parodic and exquisitely intelligent at the same time. The film’s cunning is displayed in its sharp yet subtle nods to past literary and pop cultures, performed paradoxically by the wonderfully talented ensemble. Guinevere Turner playing a lesbian actress playing Elizabeth Burton playing Albee’s Georgie is flat-out phenomenal; she nails the deadpan satire of the Hollywood actress.
Through internet magic I was able to chat with Albelo, who is in the midst of promoting WAVW at film festivals around the country, not only about WAVW, but about the trajectory of her career and how her life is inflected in her work—and vice versa.
AfterEllen.com: Edward Albee is such a creative—I hate to say “genius”—force but one who isn’t frequently or explicitly invoked in other literary and cultural contexts. How did Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? inspire you to make Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf? (WAVW)?
Anna Margarita Albelo: I saw the movie when I was 16 and I was profoundly touched by [it], and the play, and I’ve seen it and read it. There’s something about being an artist [that makes me think about] Jack Halberstam’s “queer art of failure.” Virginia Woolf and Albee are people who felt like they failed in life, that even “love’s company” but they hate company.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, Guin[evere Turner] told me I could stay with her a month, and I ended up staying a year. During that time, our three favorite movies were Sunset Boulevard, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and we’d always fantasize about one day or another making our versions of these movies, with these intense female characters.
AE: Albee’s play serves as an intertextual frame for your film; another “text” is your life. How much “autobiography” is in WAVW?
AMA: I consider it an “auto-fiction.” There [are] a lot of character traits that are autobiographical, but it certainly has fictional elements.
AE: The film’s epigraph, “for beyond the difficulty of communicating oneself, there is the supreme difficulty of being oneself”—a quotation from Virginia Woolf—epitomizes Anna’s storyline. How would you explain this quest to be one’s self in terms of having both a successful professional (career) and personal (love) life? Is the intersection of career and love “having it all”
AMA: My whole life, especially in the ‘70s and the ‘80s when women starting having to be it all, has been surrounded by the discussion of whether women can have both a career and a family. What’s hard is not trying to be a mother and having a career. What’s hard is feeling that you have to do that; that you can’t do what you want to do. Like, stay-at-home-moms were looked down upon by feminists; being a mom is hard enough.
In today’s digital culture everything is about expressing and communicating, but no one knows what they really like or what they really want to do. We’re so concerned with other people’s opinions, and posing for it and posting it [online].
You’ve really got to ask yourself, “What is important to me?” Give yourself time to understand yourself and express yourself.
AE: In Anna’s storyline, a woman turns 40 and feels disenchanted with her life; that something is lacking. Is there something about women in their 40s that makes it difficult for them to negotiate career with love? Can the two mutually, simultaneously, exist, or must there always be a hierarchy: career over love, love over career? Can’t the “libido” be in two places at once?
AMA: The midlife crisis is really the existential crisis of “who I am” and “what am I suppose to be”— “The world is yours, Tony!” (that’s from Scarface). Life is a full-time job and a lot of people have crises: kids, kids in college, adults. I wanted to expand the notion that this isn’t a movie about a woman having a midlife crisis, which is traditionally something had by men. It’s not a midlife crisis really, it’s an existential crisis.
I feel like the more you’re doing what you want, the more you feel good about yourself, the more joie de vivre you have, the more you want to see people. What runs us down is trying to fit into the picture of things instead of figuring out what makes us happy and how to be good to ourselves.
I have a lot of successful filmmaker friends who are married or have partners. [The hierarchy] was definitely my philosophy—that was very autobiographical. I had a relationship really late. I always said that what I don’t understand my relationships, but what I do understand is my work.
What I realized was that I fell for the “Disney” concept of love; maybe i believed in that unconsciously so it became this huge El Dorado that I nor anyone else could do.
I think the next half of my life will have a lot more leisure, will have more caring and openness to having more of a personal life for sure.