It all sounded easy enough when Joshua Leonard had pitched his longtime friend Jess Weixler on making “Fully Realized Humans,” which would require just seven shooting days and divided into 12 scenes. The two had such a good time a decade earlier playing a married couple in his directorial debut “The Lie,” and the ease of the production had already lured in Benjamin Kasulke back behind the camera as a cinematographer after he had made his directorial debut “Banana Split.” However, the offer came with a catch — it actually depended on Weixler being eight months pregnant at the time of filming.
Fans of the actress probably could’ve guessed what her answer would be even without seeing her name above the title on “Fully Realized Humans,” fearlessly thrusting herself into films such as “Teeth” and “Chained for Life” where audacity becomes a part of their brilliance, and Weixler again has generously thrown caution to the wind as Jackie, an expectant first-time mother who worries what life will be like after taking on the responsibility of a baby and conspires with her husband Eliot (Leonard) to pack as many childish activities into the month leading up to birth to delay inevitable adulthood.
However, that’s hardly what makes “Fully Realized Humans” feel dangerous when she and Leonard craft such a poignant and wickedly funny comedy out of the inspired premise, not only enlisting a murderer’s row of co-stars such as Beth Grant, Janicza Bravo, Zach Shields, Jennifer LaFleur and Ross Partridge to join in the fun as Jackie and Elliot put their mark on the city with graffiti and visit sex shops, but thoughtfully considering a generational divide in parenting as Jackie and Elliot worry about repeating the mistakes of how they were raised and their concerns may induce its own unease when others including their parents think their fears may be overblown. When everything touches a nerve from talk of how Elliot’s taciturn dad treated him to buying a hummus when there’s an already sealed one in the fridge, Weixler and Leonard turn the anxiety into irresistible comic frisson and as irresponsible as their characters may appear, you know they’ll make great parents when they’ve considered the implications of bringing a new life into the world so thoroughly and with such good humor.
A true bundle of joy that’s been delighting audiences at virtual festivals ever since its planned premiere at Tribeca last year was scrapped as a result of the pandemic, “Fully Realized Humans” is now being made available far and wide on VOD and in select theaters this weekend and on the eve of its release, Weixler and Leonard spoke about how the crazy collaboration came together, crafting a shoot that could accommodate the late stages of pregnancy and delivering something that captures a specific moment in their lives and will live on.
How on earth did the two of you agree to this?
Jess Weixler: Josh called me at six months pregnant, begging and pleading…do you want to tell this story?
Joshua Leonard: Sure. And then you can tell your side of it. I was living out of the country. My wife was working on a TV show in the UK, so the whole family had gone over there because it was an extended shoot. I was very fortunate to be spending a lot of time with my two-year-old daughter, which was both amazing and existentially petrifying. I really came face-to-face with this quandary of what it meant to be a father, what was included and what it was in exclusion of and [this question of][ was this all I was? Also my insecurity about being a dad while my wife was being the breadwinner and the kind of old toxic masculinity that comes with that fear and not having a creative outlet at that point.
I [thought], “I’m going to be back in the United States for three weeks during the holiday season, and my very dear friend and favorite collaborating partner Jess Weixler is six months pregnant, so I bet she’s freaking out about some of the same shit. I wonder if we could make a movie while she’s eight months pregnant.” So I called her and pitched her the roughest sketch of this couple who’s a month away from giving birth and just goes into a wormhole of existential fear and how they try to get out of it, and she was like, “No, that’s insane. I’m not going to make a movie when I’m eight months pregnant. You’re stupid.”
Jess Weixler: I’m like, “I’m already a very anxious person. I probably need to spend every day meditating to prepare myself for giving birth. I actually already had a high white blood cell count, which is at six months pregnant, which is like a marker of being overstressed. But something just told me, “Maybe it’ll actually be relaxing to try to shoot a movie in seven days.” I don’t know where this little voice came from. It was probably Josh, saying it very quietly into my ear…
Joshua Leonard: Well, first I said, “Look, obviously if you go into labor, the film is done.” We’re going to make it super cheap, so that’s the reality and the priority of the shoot is your safety. Secondly, it didn’t wind up in the cut of the movie, but [I thought] why don’t we just use your real high white blood cell count as a character trait so any time you feel you’re getting too stressed, you can just say that in the scene and that can steer the direction of the scene and bring it all down.
Jess Weixler: It actually was such a catharsis to get out of my house and go play and unearth all the anxieties that I actually had in a way that making fun of myself and each other for real issues that we both have really relaxed me. It helped me feel much more confident about the next stage of my life because I wasn’t trying to hide or bury all of that stuff that I was afraid of. It’s like, “Let’s just throw it all up against the wall and talk about it.”
Joshua Leonard: And laugh at it. And we made each other laugh so hard Jess peed her pants a couple times…
Jess Weixler: Josh! [laughs] How dare you…yes, I did. I peed my pants. I peed my pants on the hiking scene so many times, probably because of the hiking. It also was at night and after we lose our car, Josh kept trying to do a bit where he was using the moon as a navigational tool. I couldn’t handle it. It’s really my biggest regret is that couldn’t make it into the movie because I couldn’t hold peeing my pants enough for that bit to work.
To be fair to Jess, I think this is going to inspire some people to pee their pants without being eight months pregnant. You’re able to really to take all these absurd situations and find honest emotions in them, starting out with that hummus scene at the beginning. Did that set the tone for things?
Joshua Leonard: That was just a fight that my wife picked with me when she was six months pregnant and I just decided to steal it from my life and then give it to Jess, who made it funnier than it was in the moment. I’m so happy with the way that scene turned out because when I was telling Jess this story about this really massive fight my wife had picked with me because I had bought a second container of hummus, it seemed so specific and so absurd, I’m like we have to put it in the movie, but is anybody going to get it? Is it just too weird? And it is the scene bar none that we’ve all been told by audience members, “I had that exact same fight with my partner.” In that way they say specificity can be the most relatable thing, it turned out to be one of the most relatable scenes in the movie to viewers. It makes me feel less alone on the planet, which is nice.
Jess Weixler: And there must be something about hummus that you can’t remember when it’s in your fridge. There just must be something about it.
What was it like brainstorming crazy stuff for this couple to do? The montage of them literally painting the town is wild.
Jess Weixler: Brainstorming the montage was so much fun and I just have so many memories from us doing it that night, like, what would not be harmful to a child but still feel like good chaos or good trouble? I love us squatting in front of the police academy, because we were actually like, “We’re going to get in trouble” and we had the masks on!
Joshua Leonard: And we had zero permits on this movie, except the fact that hired all our actors through SAG, so a lot of what happens in that montage was four of us – Shaheen Seth, who ran second camera in the movie, Jess, myself and a sound mixer – were driving around, and Chelsea [Bo] and Sean [Drummond, our co-producers] were in another car, looking for stupid illegal things to do, knowing on some level that as illegal as what we were doing was, we had the protection of an eight month pregnant lady…
Jess Weixler: You can get away with a lot. [laughs]
Joshua Leonard: And probably no one is going to arrest her.
Jess Weixler: Also, just a fun fact about that night – during that fire sequence, there was enough smoke that happened that I got a little nauseous, being eight months pregnant, so I just vomited and we had our kissing scene immediately after that. [Joshua Leonard laughs] In front of the fountain. And it was great to know you’re that comfortable with your scene partner that you can vomit and then kiss immediately after.
That’s one of the most beautiful scenes in the movie where the two of you are in silhouette and the fountain is red in the background!
Jess Weixler: Now you know. [laughs]
As silly as this is, what’s it like to have? It’s actually capturing this important time in your life.
Jess Weixler: My daughter’s in there the whole time, so it’s a beautiful time capsule for me – though I’m terrified of her finding this movie. I don’t know what kind of therapy she’s going to be in at that point. [laughs] Hopefully, she just understands that mommy had to do what mommy had to do for herself and she was just along for the ride.
Joshua Leonard: Which is really the point of the movie, just tell her that it made you a better mom.
Jess Weixler: [laughs] Yeah, did you want me to be a worse mom? Well, this is the price. It’s complicated.