I am not a mom. But if I were, I would be Toni Collette in Fun Mom Dinner.
Directed by Alethea Jones, and written by Julie Yaeger Rudd, the movie follows a group of four mothers who get together once a month to take a breather from their child-rearing responsibilities, and find a side of themselves that they've put aside amidst play-dates and school drop-offs. The cast is seriously impressive, with Molly Shannon, Katie Aselton, and Bridget Everett starring alongside Colette.
The 44-year-old actress plays Kate, a character I have never seen onscreen but am pretty sure I know in real life. After four kids, she's over the whole "mom friend" concept. The only reason she's even at this dinner is because of a trick played by former high-school BFF Emily (Aselton), and she's not about to hide her discontent. She's not interested in hearing about your kid's allergies, or the cute thing they did the other day; she'll hide in the bathroom to smoke weed while her kids play; and yes, she sometimes texts while driving, even though she'll deny it. But she loves her children, and is an awesomely capable parent.
Motherhood is changing — we've gone way past the Leave It To Beaver model of brownies and bridge. Being a mom no longer means giving up your entire identity as a woman, and as a person. Yet Hollywood has been slow to catch up on that shift, which is why a character like Kate feels so refreshing.
We spoke to Collette, a mom of two herself, about what drew her to her character, harmful mom stereotypes, and the secret to acting high.
I'm not a mom, but I know that if I were, I would be your character.
Toni Collette: "How funny. Isn't it funny how you can identify with the different women?"
I feel like she is someone we don't see a lot in movies, but is really relatable in real life. What drew you to her?
"I think the same thing. Not just with my character, but all of the characters. There are certain comedies that I don't find appealing. They're just so broad. This all feels like it all comes from a very authentic place; the hilarity comes out of real situations. I love my character because she's so laid back and so world-wary and cynical. Yet, she is completely in love with her kids. She's protective of the very small periods of time she has for herself because they are few and far between. I love that. What she learns is that she thinks she has it sorted and denies entry, basically. Then, has this unexpected experience with these women and ends up connecting a very real way that she finds moving in the end. It's good that even people who are closed to a certain degree can have an awakening of sorts."
There's been a lot of movies and shows about unruly moms lately. Why now?
"Motherhood is a profound thing. I've played a lot of mothers. In the past I found it really, really frustrating that that's all my character is seen as. What this is doing is opening it up and showing a whole human — not just identifying with the fact that this person pushed a child out her vagina. It's just broadening the understanding of what it means to be a woman and to have children and how difficult and overwhelming it can be at times to try and balance all of these responsibilities out and how to feel satisfied and connected to yourself when you're giving, giving, giving the whole time. This, certainly, tackles all of that. It does it in a really great way. Humor is the way."
This movie is directed by a woman, produced by a woman, written by a woman, starring a cast of women, and it's a comedy. What does that feel like as an actress? How does that impact your work on set?
"It was so exciting! [The script] was sent to me, I thought I'd just read a little bit. I couldn't stop reading it. I loved it immediately. I wanted to do it immediately. It was purely for the fact that I was gonna have fun. If this was fun to read, it's gonna be fun to make. Also, because it is representing people who aren't usually seen in this light in a very real way. Not in a fake movie way.
Interesting. What do you think are some of the more harmful movie mom stereotypes?
"Women who are subservient to guys who don't have their own world going on. No one calls Don Draper a dad. He plays a dad in Mad Men."
This is also a movie about dads to some extent.
"Totally. In any film, not just this one, if all the characters don't feel real, the way the audience engages will be different because part of the reality of it will fall out. There'll be a hole or a piece of the puzzle missing. And all of the characters, all of the guys, are equally as real. No one's cliche. That's the thing."
Do you have any parenting advice for your character?
"I think women can be so hard on themselves because they deal with so many hats and you can't wear them all well. They're not all going to sit perfectly on your head. Kate's just got a really...she's just not a perfectionist. She doesn't give herself shit for failing. She probably doesn't even see it as failure. It's like 'Oh, that didn't work. I'll just put another foot forward.' I admire that."
There are no full-time working mothers in the movie. As a woman who has a very successful career, do you think you've achieved that work/life balance?
"No, I have to work really hard at it. Because I love my job so, so much and I can't imagine life without it, and I am in love with my children and can't imagine my life without them. They're both really consuming. Trying to balance it without guilt is something I'm still getting used to."
What was your favorite scene to film?
"Honestly, I loved a lot of it. It was a lot of laughter. There was something in that scene when we got into the stall at the restaurant and smoke the pot. Not that anyone was high, but it was a contact high. The power of the mind and going through the actions of doing and knowing that we were meant to be in that state. Something did take over and it became so giggly and ridiculous and loose. There was a lot of improvisation, and Bridget [Everett] and I both wet ourselves because we were laughing so much. It just took on its own energy. I love that."
I was going to ask you, what's the secret to acting high?
"Well, it's about the chemistry between everyone, so it will be different with different actors. Secret to acting high? I don't know. Giggle a lot; half-eye open; lazy eyes."
"Fun Mom Dinner" will be in theaters and On Demand / Digital HD August 4th.
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