Jonathan Sadowski and Connie Nielsen in "All Relative"

AFF ’14 Interview: J.C. Khoury on Connecting the Dots for “All Relative”

Last weekend at the Woodstock Film Festival, J.C. Khoury was walking up towards the Upstate Films Theater in Rhinebeck for the premiere of his latest film with some of his cast when he couldn’t help but notice the line that was curling around the building, over two hundred strong.

“I had to ask what movie it was for,” laughs Khoury, strongly suspecting it wasn’t his. Yet he soon discovered he was in the right place, something he’ll just have to get used to now that he’s followed up his 2011 feature debut “The Pill” with the larger-scale comedy “All Relative,” which makes its way to the Austin Film Festival this evening.

Reviving the lost art of the cinematic sex farce, Khoury sets up a 30-something named Harry (Jonathan Sadowski), who finds himself enchanted with a younger woman (Sara Paxton), only to discover that he is intimately familiar with her mother (Connie Nielsen), setting up a weekend BBQ when the daughter brings home her new beau where the sparks flying off the grill pale in comparison than those between everyone sitting at the table. While the situation spirals wildly out of control, Khoury lines the film with explosively funny, ribald moments, sneaking in underneath a deceptively considerate study of relationship needs at different ages.

On the eve of the film’s premiere in Austin and its subsequent national rollout in theaters and on VOD, Khoury spoke about the inspiration for the film, how both he and his cast drew on personal experience, and how they survived shooting next to a construction site and an amusement park.

Sara Paxton and Jonathan Sadowski in "All Relative"How did this come about?

I actually was watching “The Graduate” a couple of years ago, and I said, “What a great film,” but it’s funny how they never really show those three main characters — Ben, Mrs. Robinson, and Mrs. Robinson’s daughter— together in the same room dealing with their unfortunate circumstance. I thought, what if I could make a movie that had these kind of characters forced to be in the same room together rubbing shoulders, walking on eggshells, hiding truths, side-stepping things, all interacting with each other in a very awkward, tense yet funny kind of way?

That was the genesis with the film, along with the fact that as a single male in his thirties in New York City, I’ve dated women who are in their mid-twenties and women who are in their mid-forties. I always thought that was fascinating, the difference in psychology and behavior between those two different groups of women, and how for a guy in his thirties, it’s totally acceptable to date both age groups. Using those two things, I thought I could pull from my own personal experience, but also go a little further and mine a bit of cinematic history and see if I could do something different and new with it.

Connie Nielsen is an inspired choice to play Maren the mother because she hasn’t done many comedies, but she’s got such a remarkable presence and can be so intimidating. How did you cast her?

I had been a huge fan of Connie Nielsen ever since I saw her in “The Devil’s Advocate,” then “Gladiator” and I always remember seeing her and [thinking], “Wow, she’s such a great dramatic actor.” I was talking with another filmmaker when we were trying to figure out who could play this role of Maren, and he was like, “What about Connie Nielsen?” I was like, “That would be perfect. It’s not the obvious comedy choice, but she’s such an incredible actor I think she could pull this off.” We ended up meeting for lunch. She read the script. She liked it. I could tell right away she understood where this woman was coming from because of things that have gone on in her life, so she could really relate to the character and bring an honesty and if you’re honest about a role and emotionally truthful, the comedy will grow out of that. That was my hope, and I think she really delivered.

The film will often turn on a dime tonally. In general, was that something the actors brought out or was that there in the conception?

That scene by the window where where the parents have that real honest conversation that turns dramatic, I don’t know if that could have been as good if I didn’t have those two actors, Connie Nielsen and David Aaron Baker, because they had gone through serious breakups in their lives, so they could really pull from that. When you’re directing a movie, every actor brings to the scene what happened with them that day, or that past week, or that past month even, and you just have to be ready to just roll with it and allow all those external things to creep in. If they’re feeling something, you need to go with that and let them draw from that emotional well, so I don’t know if we could have gotten those kinds of dramatic turns as well with other actors that hadn’t dealt with real relationship issues like they had in their lives.

Even though you had been in relationships with women at different ends of the age spectrum, was it interesting for you to write for relationships between an older, married couple and a younger one still developing?

Yeah. For the younger perspective, I guess I was drawing on my own personal experience, but it was fascinating to write for a woman who is forty-five and a woman who is twenty-five. They’re at different parts in their lives, they want different things and they’ve experienced different things. It was interesting to explore that because I don’t know if any other film has necessarily explored a guy caught between two women from those different kind of age ranges. “Prime” played with it and I know Jack Nicholson was caught between a woman his own age and a much younger woman in Nancy Meyers’ “Something’s Gotta Give,” but it’s usually a guy or a girl stuck between someone their own age and then someone much younger. I wanted to play with it being in the middle.

The last time we spoke for your first film “The Pill,” I recall how it was filmed in the midst of a killer heat wave. Did the weather give you problems this time around?

The weather was actually okay. We didn’t really get rained out thankfully. If it was going to rain a little bit, we would always go inside and shoot an indoor scene. What was challenging, very much so when we were shooting at the house for ten days, was sound. There were two construction sites right near the house that were just going on all the time. It was maddening. Then some distant rock concert was going on, because we were next to Rye Playland. There was always something. We were always sending out a crew person or someone to just try to get them to quiet down for 20 minutes, so we could roll cameras and we had to space [each scene] in between the jackhammering, time it out and have someone at the construction site telling them, “Please be quiet for five minutes while we roll on this take.”

As a second feature, did you feel more confident going in?

It was about the same. In a way, this is a much bigger film location-wise, and there’s a lot more complexity between all the characters, so it was much more challenging to just keep everything in line, make it cohesive, and try to make it good. In a weird way, I might’ve felt more confident on “The Pill” just because “The Pill” was so contained, and I shot so much of it in my own apartment and in locations that I had direct access to through friends and family. It was an easier shoot, but just because of the size of this, with more locations and more characters, all those things made it tougher. But in the end, that’s what you need to do to tell a bigger story.

“All Relative” will show at the Austin Film Festival on October 23rd at the Alamo Drafthouse Village at 7:30 pm and on October 26th at the Galaxy Highland Theatre. It will be released nationally on November 21 in 10 cities theatrically and on VOD through FilmBuff.

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