Charlene deGuzman wrote Unlovable, the sex and love addiction dramedy based on her real experiences, because she wanted sex and love addicts to feel less alone.
Before deGuzman knew what sex and love addiction was, she just thought she was “crazy.” She says once she got help and realized how many people have had similar experiences, she realized that stories about sex and love addiction were rare in popular media. And if there were films about the addiction, they were usually told from the perspective of a man, and focused more on the sex (usually with many partners in outlandish locations) and not as much on the love aspect. These realizations led her to write Unlovable, her unique Mark Duplass-produced film that follows the sex and love addicted Joy, played by deGuzman, and her bumpy road to recovery.
From the start of the film, Joy is so addicted to validation that when her boyfriend breaks up with her and stops responding to her texts it sends her into a downward spiral. In the exclusive clip above, Joy calls Maddie (Melissa Leo), her reluctant Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous sponsor, after a particularly unsettling sexual experience she has post-breakup. “That scene is showing how, often with addiction, you need to reach a bottom in order for you to take a look at yourself,” deGuzman tells EW. “At some point everything just needs to crash in your world in order for you to finally change.”
Unlovable captures many of Joy’s lowest moments, adding layers to the captivating story of an often misunderstood addiction, all without sacrificing the film’s upbeat comedic tone. The obvious care and attention put into Joy’s story line makes it that much more satisfying when she finds meaning in playing drums in a band with Maddie’s reclusive brother Jim (John Hawkes). Joy is a complicated character and her recovery process isn’t simple, but deGuzman’s nuanced portrayal of addiction is sure to fulfill her goal of making people feel less alone.
Before Unlovable hits select theaters Nov. 1 and VOD Nov. 2, EW talked to deGuzman about people’s misperceptions of sex and love addiction, working with a mostly female crew, and what she learned about acting from working with Melissa Leo and John Hawkes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The movie did a good job showing that sex and love addiction is just as dire as any other addiction, even though sometimes it’s not perceived that way.
CHARLENE deGUZMAN: People have asked me, “How do you know it’s an addiction? People need sex and need love.” In film and television and fairy tales, we’re taught that the drama of romance or obsession or dysfunctional relationships, like, that’s just a normal part of life. When it becomes an addiction is when it actually destroys your life. For example, my love addiction was my core addiction, it was the pursuing of unavailable men for me. Where maybe I didn’t go to work because a guy didn’t text me back. For me, I became very suicidal over people not liking me back. It was such an extreme reaction to these things. Then you know it’s a problem.
Your character has many ups and downs with recovery. You really showed the messy parts of addiction, including the relapses. Was including that important to showing the full picture of sex and love addiction?
Yeah, there’s so many layers of the addiction. It shows up in all areas of your life. The driving force of a sex and love addict is needing that validation. Wanting to fill that void with something, like attention, acknowledgment or wanting to be seen and heard in these extreme ways. It shows up not only in romantic partners but in friendships, you may see co-dependency there. Self-destruction a lot, too. Self-sabotage.
Why was it important for you to educate people about sex and love addiction who haven’t experienced it themselves?
I hope it brings more of an awareness, because generally people would have shame or judgment around it. Like, “Oh, sex addiction, it’s so taboo.” Like in the movie Shame, that is a form of sex addiction, but it’s not all having sex at sex clubs and bathrooms and cars and this need to have sex all the time. It does show up in other ways, in the sense of like, “Oh, I keep having sex with my ex-boyfriend because I can’t leave him.” Or “I’m obsessed with this other unavailable person and now I’m using sex as a tool.” It looks different and it’s not what I think people have an idea of all the time.
The movie was directed by Suzi Yoonessi and it feels significant that this movie is directed by a woman of color. Was that something you wanted when writing the film, or did it change your experience on set at all?
What’s so awesome is that most of our crew were women. The energy was so amazing and anybody visiting the set would actually point out — “Wow, the energy’s so great here, everyone’s so supportive and nurturing and there’s like no ego, no drama.” It was definitely important to me to get a female director, that was definitely something [executive producer and co-writer] Mark Duplass and I decided early on. And the fact that Suzi was a woman of color was just an added cherry on top. Everything I’d ever dreamt of in a first movie.
The cast is amazing — John Hawkes and Melissa Leo play the other main characters. What was it like working with these experienced and talented actors?
It definitely was overwhelming. I often felt that fraud feeling of, How did I get here? How did I trick all these people to be in this movie with me? But the amazing part about it was learning so much from both John and Melissa. I felt like they taught me things about acting and performing, more important things than I have ever learned from school or a class. They would just throw in tips here and there, and it just made it so fulfilling and rewarding.
Was there one specific scene where they gave you advice that helped your performance?
Something that John told me even before filming was like, “All you have to do is feel the feelings.” Because he said with theater you’re performing out to an audience. He said when he started working on camera he learned that the camera comes to you, so everything is very internal. And that really helped me because this is coming from my own experiences in real life and all I had to do was go back there. I just had to go back to those feelings and know that that was enough.
I’m a big fan of your Twitter account (@charstarlene). I feel like I see shades of your tweets in the movie, specifically in the opening monologue. Did tweeting influence your writing process at all?
It’s cool that you noticed that because I wanted to kind of give a little wink to people who have been following me before this movie. So there are tweets in the film. There’s a conversation between Joy and Jim where they go back and forth [confessing secrets]. When Nana says, “We’re a tiny f—ing speck in the vast and infinite universe,” that was a tweet. The drumming with the subtitles, that was based off one of my shorts that I put out before, Drum-Off. And so I just wanted to sprinkle a lot of @charstarlene stuff for anyone that’s been following me for a long time.
What do you hope people take away from watching this?
My main goal with this was to help people feel less alone. Even my experience with people who have seen it now, they’re able to recognize themselves in the film, and know that they’re not crazy, which is what I used to think about myself, and that it’s a real thing that so many people in the world experience. And that alone is so relieving and kind of comforting. I even remember when my friend told me about this and I looked at the list of descriptions of what this looks like, I couldn’t even believe that my life was written in these descriptions. Bringing awareness to this, I just hope that it helps people, and that they know that there’s something they can do about it so they don’t have to live like that anymore.