“I wish I was a lesbian. You guys get to have sex, like, all the time and never get pregnant. Such a good deal,” says the blonde sister in the trailer for Grace McLeod’s Under the Table. The upcoming film pays distinct homage to the recognizable style of a Wes Anderson film—colorful scenes that bleed into the dark narrative of comically dysfunctional characters. McLeod’s film declares itself a “short comedy about lesbians, mashed potatoes and a (reluctant) modern family.” That reluctant family consists of clueless mother Meredith (Tracy McMullan)—a haughty Park Avenue mom who has plans to bring the family together for Thanksgiving, her work-obsessed husband David (Rich Meiman), opinionated daughter Janie (Danicah Waldo), and lesbian daughter Nell (Jackie Viscusi). What no one knows is that Nell is bringing her new girlfriend Laura (Marie Zoumanigui) home with her for the holidays. Not only is Nell a lesbian, she’s also in an interracial relationship—so naturally, Meredith’s woes about not knowing how to cook and clean have been trumped by this new revelation. But it’s time to break bread and gather around the table.
McLeod’s Kickstarter campaign for Under the Table received all of its funding a day after Christmas—raising $13,425, far exceeding its original $6,000 goal. Fueled by her life experiences, this college-bound teen and 2013 Tribeca Film Fellow didn’t always want to make films. She once hoped to marry into the British royal family. Raised in Manhattan’s privileged Upper East Side, McLeod came out in her sophomore year of high school to a seemingly supportive pack of people, but noticed sexuality was never openly discussed. In its place was a fragile structure of hypothetical terms and uncomplicated attachments: like changing one’s Facebook profile photo to an equal rights symbol. McLeod notes the difference between something like that and actually attaching your name and action to a movement. “I saw the potential for comedy in this world of hesitant “what ifs” and wanted to create a scenario where the things left unspoken were seriously (and at times hilariously) discussed.”
“The characters in the film are so used to brushing life’s uncomfortable realities under the table and out of sight that their attempts at confronting real emotion are just as comical as they are heartbreaking,” says McLeod, noting the beauty in open dialogue, even if you’re saying “all the wrong things.” In the case of Under the Table, Meredith must come to grips with the distinction McLeod references out of real life: tolerance from a far versus genuine acceptance. If I may, Meredith’s comprehension is a bit shaped like a Monet (i.e. Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless definition of finding the beauty in something/someone from a distance, but realizing up close that it’s just a “big mess.”) Therein, Meredith is defensive about her lack of LGBT knowledge, and in McLeod’s favorite scene of the film testifies: “It’s not like I know any lesbians. They don’t live on the Upper East Side.”
Clearly, Under the Table stretches ahead of the “coming-out” anecdote. This isn’t just about your lesbian daughter surprising you at the doorstep for the holidays with her new girlfriend, who you catch feeding the dog under the table, only after everyone else has already given the pup their scraps. I offer a subtle comparison to the Marcos Siega film Pretty Persuasion, if only because, like McLeod compares, “It satirizes outrageous privilege while still striking an emotional chord,” a similar motif in McLeod’s film. Nothing is quite as it seems in Under the Table: an off-centered chandelier, a family who’s voted for Obama but must now put their money where their mouths are, so to speak. (And since this is the UES, money would be too easy—so putting their minds where their mouths are sounds far better.)
Believe it or not, everyone who worked on the set of the film was under the age of 19—a crew of around 25 New York City college and high school students who came together under the low-budget constraints of a film no one knew would reach such heights. A premiere is slated for the Tribeca Film Festival in mid-April. Until then, stay up-to-date with Grace McLeod and the film via their Kickstarter updates.