Exclusive: Director Janicza Bravo Talks ‘Lemon’

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Exclusive: Director Janicza Bravo Talks ‘Lemon’
Posted by Wilson Morales

August 22, 2017

Hitting theaters in New York this week from Magnolia Pictures after debuting in LA theaters, on ITunes, OnDemand and Amazon Video on August 18 is director Janicza Bravo‘s feature debut, Lemon.

Lemon, which premiered earlier this year at Sundance, was written by Bravo and her husband Brett Gelman. Gelman is also the lead of the film and stars along Judy Greer, Michael Cera, Shiri Appleby, Fred Melamed, Rhea Perlman, David Paymer, Gillian Jacobs, Jon Daly, Martin Starr, Megan Mullally, Jeff Garlin, Elizabeth De Razzo, Marla Gibbs and Nia Long.

Lemon: a person or thing that proves to be defective, imperfect, or unsatisfactory. Isaac Lachmann is a dud. Isaac Lachmann is 40. Isaac Lachmann is a man in free fall immobilized by mediocrity. His career is going nowhere. His girlfriend of ten years is leaving him. And his overbearing family doesn’t help matters. What did he do to deserve this? Things were supposed to work out differently for him. Isaac Lachmann had big dreams. Now he just watches as life unravels.

For Bravo, having done numerous short films including her first Eat, which premiered at SXSW, and her follow up Gregory Go Boom, which played in competition at Sundance and took home a Short Film Jury award, she’s finally get her feature length film off in theaters in a short of time. Not that many films can go to a festival, get bought and have a theatrical release date in the same year. She also directed the Juneteenth episode from FX’s award winning Atlanta starring Donald Glover.

Blackfilm.com recently spoke with Bravo on the journey to get Lemon made and sold.

How long did it take you to put this together and finally get it on screen?

Janicza Bravo: The first draft of it was written six years ago, and the first shareable draft was sent out five years ago to Michael Cera, who said yes to it. It then took five years to get it made.

With Michael on board, was it more about the script or funding the reason it took long to shoot the film?

Janicza Bravo: It was the funding. I would say that the funding was the most challenging part of it. Getting the actors was the easiest. I always have luck in that department. I don’t know exactly why that is, but I feel very fortunately blessed at getting good cast. I think it has to do with the way I work and I think it also has to do with the writing, which is a bit unusual and a little theatrical and people don’t read stuff like that all the time. That part feels exciting. The challenge is to work in a new space, which actors tend to gravitate towards, so I would say it was the funding. The script is surreal and asburd. Do people want to feel stressed out? I don’t know. Sometimes they do but it’s not like they want to feel bad and this is a comedy about feeling bad. It’s a stressful comedy. I think this was something that was challenging. Not only that, but it’s also experimental, it’s also surreal. Do you have the attention to detail and are you capable of telling this story in this space in the way that you’re telling me it’s going to happen on paper. There’s no proof on concept here. There’s not enough body of work that you have made that proves to me that you know how to show up to this.

What’s the best way to describe Lemon?

Janicza Bravo: There’s a couple of reasons for the title. I grew up in Central America and I remember this advertisement from the 1970s of a VW bug and it said the word ‘Lemon.’ It had this really beautiful font with a black and white photo and it’s super sexy, and sleek and clean. I also remembered that. I remembered asking my father when I was young what that meant and he said something in that realm that didn’t sound bougie but described it as a thing that is faulty, something that doesn’t work all the way well. Something that is missing something. When we were coming up with ‘Lemon,’ that exactly what the character Isaac Lachmann felt like. He felt like a person, place or thing that was faulty. He felt like something that wasn’t perfect. That’s why the title.

I would describe the movie as a stressful and sour comedy that will mostly make you feel bad. Sometimes make you feel good, and most of all make you feel off.

With Brett Gelman as your co-writer and lead, was he always the first choice when selling the film to producers?

Janicza Bravo: It was always Brett. I was going to direct it and Brett was going to star in it. That was the package. There was no bending on that for us.

Can you talk about him as a writer and as an actor?

Janicza Bravo: We’ve been together for nine years and it was pretty effortless. I had been with other people who I had tried to work before and it did not work. It was a catastrophic failure and with Brett, it was effortless. We hadn’t talked about it. We just fell into it. Our sense in humor is in many ways quite similar. We tend to gravitate towards the morose, and the strange; although how we get there is totally different. It was just natural. I want to be directing and he wanted to be acting more and we shared one roof and there it was.

You mentioned it earlier, but how did the actors come on board so easily?

Janicza Bravo: I would say that it was one of the easiest part. I feel that the actors had read the script and had not read something like that before. They were spending three to fours days on the script and it was like theater. The only person that worked everyday was Brett. Otherwise, everyone else that’s in the movie worked about four days. There’s also the appeal of short commitment, interesting project and interesting cast.

What makes Nia Long’s character Cleo fall for Isaac?

Janicza Bravo: That was one of the hardest things to do, figure out and break down in the script. We knew we wanted it to happen. Brett and I found ourselves questioning the couple. As an audience member, I wouldn’t buy it. When Nia came on board, we all talked about it. I know I wanted it to be this way because this is what I wanted, but I also don’t believe it. The way we rationalized it was in a variety of ways. Lemon is a commentary of white guy comedy space. The white guy who is in his late 30s and early 40s and who is failing at life, but has a strong family base and a great group of friends. But there are a 100 movies like this.

Lemon is a commentary on that space. That guy gets the girl that he shouldn’t have and says whatever he wants to say. He doesn’t ask her any questions. He’s a total shithead to her and it all works out for him. We put Brett in that space where he shouldn’t get a girl like Nia Long and he’s so broken that it’s impossible for him to win. That was one aspect to it. For Nia’s character, she felt bad for him. She also felt the desperation of being a single mom and working all the time. It was easy to go out with someone she met at work and she felt bad for him. That’s why she kept inviting him in.

How exciting is it to go from Sundance to being bought and then released in the same year?

Janicza Bravo: I’m feeling very lucky and trying to enjoy it. This is my first feature and it took a while to get here and a lot of nice things has happened as a result of it. I’m trying to bask in on all the pluses.



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