Until recently, Angus MacLachlan was best known to filmgoers as the screenwriter of the beloved 2005 movie “Junebug,” which earned Amy Adams her first Oscar nomination. Nearly 10 years later, MacLachlan -- who is a seasoned playwright and actor -- has brought his first feature as a writer-director to the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
“Goodbye to All That” follows the accident-prone Otto (Paul Schneider, whose performance earned him the Tribeca Best Actor jury prize) through the first shell-shocked months after his wife (Melanie Lynskey) abruptly files for divorce. Set and shot in Winston-Salem, N.C. (where MacLachlan lives), “Goodbye to All That” is a surprisingly sexually charged portrait of a man navigating a social landscape that has changed dramatically since he was last single, while at the same time struggling to be a stable, reliable parent for his precocious daughter, Edie.
Maclachlan sat down with the International Business Times to discuss the layered themes of “Goodbye to All That” and the transition from writer to filmmaker.
International Business Times: I took “Goodbye to All That” to be a relationship story, told from the point of view of one side of that relationship.
Angus MacLachlan: Exactly. My feeling was that you could tell Annie’s [Otto's wife's] story completely; in this film you just get a bit of it. But another movie could be her dealing with this bumbling guy, and feeling bad about it, yet caring for him.
IBT: Can Otto’s point of view be trusted?
AM: Well, it’s just his point of view… it’s not the whole story. And you’re sort of buying his point of view -- you’re not given all the information.
One of the inspirations for “Goodbye to All That” was a movie called “An Unmarried Woman,” with Jill Clayburgh. It’s about a woman whose husband tells her he is having an affair and wants a divorce. She’s gobsmacked by that … [but] eventually it’s about her standing up on her own two feet ... And I thought: Can you tell that story from the man’s point of view?
A lot of times when you see a film or story about a man having a lot of sex, he’s in some ways judged as immature, or that there is something wrong with him. And I wanted to see if you could tell a story like that with a man who is not immature, but who is just unconscious. He’s got to come to consciousness. It is pretty intentional that way.
IBT: What do his choices in women with whom he has sexual relationships with tell us about his consciousness?
AM: I was always wary that they are all really beautiful…
IBT…and blonde, and young, and horny.
AM: We tried to tone down because they were all really blond. ... But it’s a movie and you want to look at attractive people.
My producers are two women of a certain age, they are mature women, so it was great to bounce ideas off of them. And at least we have a wide range of ages -- from about 23-44. Heather Graham is fantastic looking, but she’s 44 years old … So it’s not like Otto is *just* with 20 year olds.
IBT: Got it. I guess we are only told one of the woman’s ages, and she’s 25.
AM: Right, she’s very young. But you can tell he’s uncomfortable with that. Because she’s asking him to do things that she’s uncomfortable with.
But each of the women push him beyond his comfort zone, and they each give him different things. One of the things I spoke to all the actors about was that I wanted to portray all of the sex as healing and positive, and not seedy. Nobody is taking advantage and it’s not about power. All of the women are there on their own volition, making their own decisions.
It’s complicated, and we all have our own feelings. With the very young one, he’s the one who says, "should we move this to the next step?" And she doesn’t want to. She’s fine with what they have. So in a way he’s kind of playing the typical woman’s character, in that he really doesn’t have the control.
IBT: There was one line toward the end of the film that really changed for me the way that I had viewed it up until that point. Was that supposed to be a pivot point for the audience?
AM: It’s the line where [Annie] says, “I try to teach [my daughter] that a woman has the right to be seen.” And it’s really the whole theme of the movie. All of the characters want that.
Not only women feel that way -- men feel that way, too. I think that Otto’s character also was not seen or really known until he reconnects with [his old flame] Laura... In five minutes after 20 years they were more intimate than he ever really had been with his wife.
The whole point of the film is that Otto has... got to realize that he wasn’t paying attention, and he’s got to pay attention.
IBT: I knew Otto wasn’t supposed to [REDACTED; SPOILER]and that it wasn’t right for his character, but I wanted him to so badly.
AM: You want that kind of [REDACTED] ending, but he hasn't earned it yet.
IBT: This was your first project as a director. What did you learn about yourself as a writer from directing your own script?
AM: It’s really true that writers are treated very poorly in the film industry.
IBT: You think?
AM: Oh yeah! A lot of people have this idea that the script is just a blueprint. Nowadays there is a lot of filmmaking where they don’t even have a script. And there are some great films that come out that way but it’s sometimes difficult being a member of the WGA when it comes time to nominate films for the awards. And sometimes I’ll feel that a film wasn’t actually written. It was sort of made up.
Anyway, writers are treated as sort of a necessary evil. … What I’ve learned as a director is kind of why that happens. The director really has to make it his film. You look at some of the great directors, like Hitchcock, and they all feel like Hitchcock films, but they were written by a lot of different people. They all ... have a similar sensibility.
IBT: So you directed “Goodbye to All That” from a complete script.
AM: Yes. And it's not to say that things don't change but there weren't furious rewrites every night.
I'm an actor myself so I write the way actors work, with a lot of subtext, and good actors recognize that and feel that.
IBT: So do you consider yourself a triple threat now? You qualify.
AM: I do! You know, I like the term filmmaker. ... Before the festival, they sent the directors questionnaires, and one of the questions was, “What are you looking forward to besides having your film shown?” And I said, well for the next month, I'm treated as if I'm a filmmaker.
IBT: Instead of a writer ...
... or just another bum! Or an “aspiring” something ... [Answering questions] gets tiring, but you're asking me about my work and treating me as if I'm legitimate. It's great.
IBT: What do you hope is the audience takeaway from “Goodbye to All That?”
Well I hope it's entertaining. You know, you want it loved. I think for any artist the paradigm is set when you're five years old. ... You want people to love your work.
Also, I was telling my wife, I want the kind of thing that great movies have given me. I think it was an author who said, “great art makes you feel less alone, and happy to be alive.” It doesn't have to be that the movie is happy, but that it makes you feel like somebody else understands. Or [laughing] that you don't feel completely like life is not worth living.