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They say three’s a charm, and for director Gaby Dellal, that meant nabbing a Hollywood trio to front her latest feature, 3 Generations, which saw star and executive producer Naomi Watts connecting with the protective mother she plays in the film, one who cautiously endorses hormone treatments for her transgender son, Ray (Elle Fanning), amid reservations from his pushy lesbian grandma (Susan Sarandon).
“The script felt like a story that was a necessary one to be told. It’s about how we were all transitioning into this new world and how we’re struggling with how we do this comfortably and stick together as a family,” Watts tells EW of the film’s plot, which follows a family fraught with tension as its members undergo transformations in their own right. “So much about being a parent is about getting out of their way at the same time as being in charge of their health, their safety, and those simple things in the beginning and imparting good values. It is about releasing them into the world. Who are we to try and define them?”
It’s perhaps that precautionary nature Watts and Dellal — both mothers themselves — tapped into ahead of the film’s originally planned release date in 2015, shortly following Caitlyn Jenner’s debut on the cover of Vanity Fair.
After 3 Generations launched that year at the Toronto International Film Festival, Dellal — who’d previously helmed pictures like Angels Crest and On a Clear Day — admittedly felt the original cut (she tells EW the first version was a lighthearted, humorous take on serious issues) didn’t jive with the vision she had when writing the screenplay; Thus, she spent two months re-editing it, eventually finding each character’s voice while still tapping into Ray’s feelings of pre-op isolation as the blogosphere exploded with coverage of Jenner’s transition.
The result, according to Dellal, isn’t an “issue film” that dissects Ray’s transition, but rather an examination of parenthood and the emotional rebirth adults often undergo as they come to terms with the maturation of a child.
“Initially the film was a lot funnier. The moment was ripe when Harvey [Weinstein] acquired it because it was just when Caitlyn Jenner had popped, but I think now in hindsight there was such a thing about [her] that had the wrong [media] skew to it,” she says. “In the same way, I think my film was very funny, and amazingly Harvey wanted me to go back into the cutting room – he didn’t take it over, thank the Lord. He allowed me to go back into the cutting room with one note: Now people are aware of a trans community… let’s get a tiny bit more into Ray’s head and see if we can tap into his loneliness and alienation… you’re able to tap just a tiny bit into his world [now].”
“Each family has its own specific dysfunction. This dysfunction was… people having to come to terms with a shift in looking at things,” she continues. “Ray finally brings everyone together, and they learn love… the new version will allow the audience to start a more important conversation. It’s still humorous, so it was about rebalancing the humor so you don’t make [the message of acceptance] less significant.”
Good things often come in threes, but when 3 Generations hits theaters May 5, Dellal is aiming for greatness on the second try.