Director Stella Meghie wants us all to learn how to move on.
The indie auteur’s latest project The Weekend, which screened at the Tribeca Film Festival on May 3, is a romantic comedy that’s all about letting go.
Sasheer Zamata (SNL) stars as Zadie, a young woman third-wheeling it on a weekend getaway trip with her ex-boyfriend, Bradford (Tone Bell), and his new serious girlfriend, Margo (DeWanda Wise). Zadie struggles to maintain her friendship with a man she can’t get over while being tempted by another visitor at her mother’s bed-and-breakfast — the recently single Aubrey (Y’lan Noel).
For Meghie, who wrote and directed the film, she loves romance, but she’s not here for a pat story or one that advocates fixing the bad boy. “Outside of the set-up, it’s about trying to move on from an old relationship. That’s what’s at the core of it is trying to move on from something you’ve been holding on to and sometimes having to see that person with someone else to figure it all out,” Meghie tells EW. “It’s about being able to let go of things and stepping into who you are and I put that thought into this weekend getaway.”
Ahead of her film’s New York premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, EW called up Meghie to talk about her love for directing in the indie world, the joys of writing “unlikable” characters, and why she likes to explore the intricacies of relationships.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your first indie film Jean of the Jones was very personal and inspired by your own family. Is this equally as personal, and if so, in similar ways or different?
STELLA MEGHIE: There’s definitely personal parts about it. I’m not a comedian, but my mom runs a bed-and-breakfast. I’ve spent time with her there and that laid the groundwork of the weekend and that setting of them all traveling home to Zadie’s mom’s bed-and-breakfast, so there’s personal stuff in there like that. Some relationship stuff mixed in with fiction. In terms of difference from Jean, that was pulled from all the women in my family and focused more on the family drama as opposed to this one that’s more romantic in nature.
This film really feels like it’s returning to a great era of black romances in the mid-’90s that have petered out. Was that a gap you were very deliberately looking to fill?
I don’t know I would say I was deliberately looking to fill. I love all those movies from that time period, and I just love romantic dramas, romantic comedies in general. It’s really what I gravitate toward writing often and figuring out how to get it made.
Everything, Everything was a romance, The Weekend is also a romance in many ways, and your next film, The Photograph, is as well – is there a reason you gravitate toward that genre and exploring romantic relationships in your work?
I love to see complex relationships and different kinds of people falling in love. They make me smile and laugh and think when I see two people trying to get together and trying to figure it out. It’s always just excited me to write about and read about and watch. It’s what I gravitate toward and where my skill set lies. Even when I was younger and my aunt was letting me read Jackie Collins novels, and mix some of that with some French New Wave obsession in college and black romantic films of the ’90s and you get the weird mix of tone I like to put into my films.
This was a return to directing from a script you wrote. How does that change your process as a director, if at all?
It does feel much different when you’ve written it yourself. You were at the ground of building it, so for me, when I’m writing something, I’m thinking about how I’m going to direct it. So when it gets to the point of directing it, it’s just in you in a much deeper, layered way, and you’re very specific about how you see this thing coming to life on the screen versus interpreting someone else’s words and bringing your eye to it.
You also add this third layer of Zadie encountering her parents’ own romantic struggles — why did you want to add that other generation in there?
I’m always interested in generations because I feel like how your parents dealt with relationships and their relationship IQ probably transfers down to you and how you deal with relationships. I’m always exploring that a little bit. And I love seeing mother-daughter relationships that are complex on camera. I like adding those extra layers in and making sure that people feel whole. I didn’t want her mother to just be there as a foil; I wanted her to have her own thing she was going through that Zadie could look at and mirror what she was going through a little bit.
Sasheer Zamata has a strong background in comedy. Was that a primary reason you felt she was a good fit for the role? How much did her casting shape the final version of Zadie?
Casting is so much of directing. I was always interested in working with Sasheer; I was always a fan of hers. The description was kind of like a mean Minnie Mouse. Sasheer is the nicest person in the world. She has this sweet, soft voice but she’s so deadpan, and I felt like she’s the character I’m talking about. It wasn’t necessarily for her stand-up at all. Although I wanted to make sure whoever I cast had done stand-up before because it gets kind of hanky when you put people as pretend comics on camera. When you bring someone in, you throw out a little bit of how you imagine the character, and for me, I tailor it to whoever I cast to make the character sing through them as best as I can. I love working with comedians — I mean there was Sasheer, Tone Bell, Kym Whitley. It was a lot of comedians on set.
Did Sasheer write the sets that bookend the film or was it all your words? How did that process go?
I’d written the version of the stand-up, and she changed some things to make it more comfortable for her. But the general tone of what was there was what I had written.
What are your general thoughts on being friends with your exes?
I never do it. [Laughs] I guess I’m an adult now, so I have exes that are friends. That can be difficult depending on how things ended.
There’s a line — “I constantly talk like I’m the supporting actress of a romantic comedy”—it really reminded me of Nora Ephron’s similar affirmation to be the heroine in your own story – is that sort of overall what you want us to think of Zadie’s journey?
That line was the joke but I feel like it’s a profound thing people should take in. Sometimes when you grow up as not the model, not the prettiest girl at school, not the coolest, you can have this silly thing that hangs around you that you brought from elementary and high school that you’re the average girl. Zadie in this story needed to realize she deserved a lot more than waiting around for some guy. You have to build yourself up to, as Nora said, be the heroine in your own story and that’s where you find your happiness.
Zadie is probably too acerbic for a studio film. Is that something you love about indie filmmaking, being able to write women as complex and dynamic as they are, rather than feeling beholden to making them likable?
That’s what’s great about indie and why I’ll probably always return to it because you can write whatever characters you want. I do have this weird thing where I have written a lot of scripts where people have said, “On the page, this character’s not likable.” Or I’ve had notes like “Why would someone love this person?” That was really cutting and harsh. But those are real women and even your most annoying friend is lovable. People are afraid to make characters like Zadie.
Near the end of the film, Aubry tells Zadie, “Let me know what he decides” not “You” – is that something she needs to call him on or is that part of her own journey of realizing she’s just been in stasis all this time?
It’s harsh. Aubrey is so sweet, and then he says this one thing and it’s true. I didn’t feel like I wanted her to call him on it because I wanted her at that point to let it sting and take it in like “He’s right, you’re allowing this guy to decide the fate of your happiness and romantic life when you’re surely capable of saying It’s this or the highway or I’ve moved on.” I always write the nice guy. I never let any of my characters fall in love with horrible people. That whole “I’m in love with the bad guy and now I’ve turned him good” — no, I hope that my heroines will open their eyes and find someone good.
Thank you! It’s so unhealthy to tell women they can change the worst dude.
When does that ever happen? Never. That’s definitely the 2000s or the ’90s version of the rom-com where you’re like falling in love with the bad guy and you change him. In my movies, you get rid of that guy and fall for the nice guy.
You have an ambiguous but happy ending. Did you consider any other options?
No, not really. I feel like I always leave some of my stuff a little open-ended, but with some kind of optimistic view of what the future could hold. Zadie deserves the guy, why not? You’re supposed to find yourself and you deserve love too.