I would imagine virtually no other generation is envious of the murky waters that must make up millennial romance today.
After all, dating in a world driven by social media has got to be tricky; especially considering today’s notion of courtship can be epitomized by swiping right to find your soul mate. It is in that muddy milieu that Carly Stone situates her debut film The New Romantic.
A recent hit at Austin’s SXSW festival, the Canadian romcom follows an eager college-aged journalist (played by rising star Jessica Barden of acclaimed Netflix series The End of the F***ing World) as she swipes left on Tinder to explore the world of sugar babies and wooing older, successful men. A charming investigation into the superficiality and pitfalls of millennial dating, Stone has set herself up as an auteur to watch in Canada.
We caught up with her ahead of the movie’s opening this Friday to speak about SXSW, sugar babies and embracing the romcom cliché.
Q: First off, congrats on earning the Special Jury Recognition for First Feature at SXSW – has that recognition changed things for this film?
A: I think it’s cool that it’s a stand-out from the festival. I think that probably helps, but I can’t really say in what way because this is my first film. (Laughs) But it’s probably only done positive things.
Q: Yeah, I guess you have nothing really to compare it to.
A: Yeah. (Laughs)
Q: Well, I love that one of the things you have said about The New Romantic is that the film’s not just about sugar babies – its about ambition, especially for young women today. When you were writing it, when did that theme become obvious to you?
A: The more research I did into sugar babies, the more I realized that ambition was what drove a lot of them to pursue these types of relationships. Then, in trying to find my way into the protagonist – in order to connect with her – I decided to make her ambitious because I think I’m ambitious. It helped me get into her head.
Q: I suppose on some levels it helps the audience separate themselves from placing judgment on the protagonist as well.
A: Yes, exactly!
Q: The more I watched the film, the more I found it to be a love letter to that time in your life when you’re still discovering yourself with all its ups-and-downs. Was that a particularly tricky tone to master?
A: For sure, because it’s dark and it’s light – I think balancing that without going on a roller coaster is tricky. But I knew that going into it that it would be perhaps the greatest challenge, but it was one I wanted to pull off because those are the films I like the most …all the films I reference now weren’t around when I was writing it, but Ladybird, Eighth Grade – that’s the tone that I love.
Q: There’s been a lot written about how this film doesn’t make explicit commentary on millennial issues or sex or assault, but it certainly seems prescient in this era of the #MeToo movement. Are those commentaries a byproduct of those hot-button issues or a coincidence that this is all coming to surface now?
A: It’s a total coincidence. We were on one of our final days of shooting when the Weinstein scandal broke and the #MeToo movement started. This film existed previous to #MeToo but came out post #MeToo, so I think the way it’s interpreted is interesting because of that.
Q: It seems like there’s a whole of serendipity happening in film right now.
A: I know — there seems to be an appetite for this type of film right now.
Q: Clearly your film is influenced by (late writer/director) Nora Ephron and her movies (such as Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally). In being a student of those types of romantic comedies, what was the biggest movie cliché of that type of film you wanted to avoid?
A: Well, my producer didn’t want any shots of a hand out the window of a car driving. But I got one in there so I might have embraced a cliché. (Laughs)
Q: That’s an interesting take.
A: I didn’t try and dodge any to be honest. I just tried to stay authentic – if that sounds really cheesy – hoping that being as specific as possible, nothing would feel like a cliché.
Q: And I imagine a large credit of that goes to casting Jessica Barden. Can you explain how you landed such a hot rising actress from the UK for your little Canadian film?
A: Yeah, we sent her agent the script two years before we shot it and her agent said she had the perfect person. Jessica read it and said she loved it and she was the first person who was attached (and) this was before The End of the F***ing World – that show hadn’t come out yet so were really fortunate to work with her because she’s just really talented and very nuanced.
Q: Well, maybe you’re touching on it already, but can you nail down what it is about that type of actress that sets them apart from others?
A: I think, just like the character, she was able to convey a girl who is filled with contradictions. She’s intelligent but naïve. Not Jessica, but the character she plays. Jessica, she just handled that contradiction really well and somehow managed to convey both of those things at the same time, which put in different hands, could have gone wrong.
The New Romantic opens Friday, Oct. 19 at Eau Claire Market Cinemas. For screening times please go to https://www.cineplex.com/Theatre/cineplex-odeon-eau-claire-market-cinemas.
Steve Gow has spent a good amount of his time conducting interviews for a variety of publications as well as on television. Most notably, he was a film reporter for The Movie Network/HBO Canada and his written stories that were regularly featured in Calgary’s former “go-to guide” FFWD weekly, as well as Metro, Toronto Star and more.