For a film about that age when a wild night out on the town begins to sound less appealing than a quiet evening in, it was fitting that not long after Mo Perkins thought what a fun idea shooting in a limo might be, the director began to have second thoughts.
“It’s really funny because if you saw “A Quiet Little Marriage” [Perkins’ first film], you know we spent days in a bathroom, and there was never any room for me,” laughs Perkins. “With this one, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s great. We’re going to be so mobile, and we’re going to be driving all over the city.” I thought it was going to be this really freeing experience. But the truth is a limo is just a bathroom on wheels.”
While Perkins can’t say that she enjoyed burrowing into the ’80s shag carpeting that lined the stretch towncar, it was the kind of sacrifice of comfort that one might expect from the filmmaker, who last left a searing impression on festival audiences with “A Quiet Little Marriage,” a drama that watched as a young couple’s unexpected pregnancy set off a wave of self-doubt and despair about repeating the mistakes of their forebears.
Her second feature, “The Last Time You Had Fun” is no less introspective, yet of a considerably lighter bent with a cast that features Demetri Martin, Kyle Bornheimer, Eliza Coupe and Mary Elizabeth Ellis as a group thrown together after sharing war stories about their relationships at a wine bar and zig-zagging around Los Angeles in the limo Martin’s Will has rented to celebrate the impending divorce of Bornheimer’s Clark, who is still licking his wounds. As it turns out, Coupe’s Ida is too from a recent breakup, however “The Last Time You Had Fun” doesn’t let any of its characters side with one another for too long, with the still-married Will and Ellis’ Alison just as given to questioning what life they got themselves into as those on the two on the way out of serious relationships, though all have distinctly different reasoning about where things went wrong.
Perkins pushes all four to tighter corners than the ones she literally had to endure herself in making the film, often to hilarious effect, and shortly before “The Last Time You Had Fun” makes its world premiere at the L.A. Film Festival, she spoke about the film grew out of her own quite happy marriage, filming while roaming the streets of Los Angeles and how she convinced Charlyne Yi to return to acting to play the film’s downtrodden limo driver.
The writer, Hal Haberman, is also my husband, and we were talking about wanting to do something together. He does mostly dark comedies. He co-wrote and co-drected a film called “Special” that starred Michael Rapaport, and we just started trying to figure out ways that the two things that we do best might fit together. He really wanted to make something that was very dialogue-driven, and I wanted to try something that stretched my legs, but was still grounded and about characters, so we came up with this idea. Both of us love movies that happen all in one night, so that was something I always wanted to try, and we came up with the idea. He wrote the script, then we just hit the pavement trying to put it together.
Is it interesting to collaborate with your husband on a story all about relationships in very precarious states? It feels like it could also be a continuation of your last film in a different key.
It was an interesting thing to write with my husband. Our marriage is very healthy. We’re coming up on 10 years in September, and we’re very much in love, but we talk a lot about it, and for some reason, there’s been a big wave of divorces over the last two or three years, so that was part of it.
Then there’s [the idea that there’s] only a handful of really intense relationships [you have in life]. There’s family, but you don’t necessarily choose family, but when you choose another human being and you have all these high expectations for what that commitment means, I think there’s really rich drama and humor to be mined there. It’s really interesting the way that that plays out and the expectations that you have around it and how the reality of that often not at all matches it. I guess I have a theme. I could explore other things, but I’m still digging around in marriage. I like it.
There’s an interesting point in the film where Demetri Martin’s character notes that the two women are like a bizarro version of the two men. Did you and Hal actually design the characters as a group to play off each other in that way?
They were kind of born as a whole, which is interesting that they are the flip sides of the coin. We wanted to explore that wonderful thing that movies do where you can come into a story and have expectations for where your alliances are going to lie, then slowly as you get to know people, those alliances shift and ideally become more three-dimensional.
For instance, Demetri Martin’s character comes off in the beginning as very slick and slightly offensive, then you slowly dig at him and you realize that that’s coming from his real sense of insecurity about himself. By the end of the movie, all of that is kind of washed away and you see this guy who is really floundering for what it is to be just even a grown-up man. Knowing that we wanted to go on that journey, I think we picked [each of the characters] as the different responses that people have when they don’t feel completely satisfied with who it is that they hope they are - one who just talks too much and one who doesn’t talk enough and how those are similar responses to the same problem.
Obviously, the limo setting is quite cramped. Was it a bonding experience with the cast?
I loved that, for the four main actors, they were together all the time in this space, and it really created this dynamic that lent to their performances. They were just constantly right in that spot. When the cameras were off, they were joking and getting to know each other, and when the cameras were on, it lent a realness to when they were joking and getting to know each other, and actually be driving around in the limo.
Was the car actually moving as you were shooting? It’s not just exterior shots mixed in with interiors while the car was stationary?
Oh, yeah. We were driving up and down all over the place. It’s moving, and it’s late at night. All those little lights and signs that are passing by, that’s the actual Los Angeles, which I think mattered to the performances. I hope it comes across visually.
Charlyne Yi plays the limo driver, which is unexpectedly great for a number of reasons, including the fact it seemed she had retired from acting. Was it difficult to pull her back in?
I begged her, and I was really grateful. She’s not acting, but I love her, and there was something about who was driving that big limo that was so important to the reality. Like, these women get into this limo with these guys that they’ve just met at a bar, and as a woman, that’s a dangerous situation. I would never do that. But for some reason, having Charlyne Yi at the helm made it more realistic to me. Like, yeah, they’ll get in because it’s Charlyne, and it did something interesting textually for the idea of the evening. I hope she’s happy that she did it, because I was really happy she did. I just love her, so I got lucky.
It’s a blessing and a curse because you have learned, so hopefully, you’ve got new skills and talents. Also, you’re not as reckless as you are on the first one. You know what it’s going to take when you start to run the race, that it’s going to take everything, whereas on the first one, you’re just doing it and you don’t know how much it’s going to take. This one was a little bit bigger, but not by much and it was fun to delve into what I can do comedically because the other one was much more of a drama.
There also must’ve been a nice balancing out of instincts since you came from that background and were directing actors primarily known for their comedic prowess and here they have to play slightly more dramatic parts.
Yeah, it’s always thrilling to invite people to try things that they haven’t before and to discover what they’re capable of. I knew just sitting with Eliza Coupe that there was stuff going on under there that could be mined, but she very easily brings the comedy. All of them, you laugh in their presence just spontaneously all the time, but that they were willing to go there and reach for other things with me was a treat. I learned a lot about comedy from all of them, as well. That’s something I would love to do more of.
I also learned every project has its own base. Having four main actors in every single scene was an exciting new thing for me, but also has its challenges just in terms of, if you’re a small film, you have so many days to shoot and if you have four people talking in every single scene, coverage becomes a challenge. To overcome that and make it creative is its own thing, too. It was a joy.