David Henrie talks flipping '80s rom-com tropes and teaming with Selena Gomez on This Is the Year
There's an old adage in show business to write what you know, and for David Henrie and his feature directorial debut This Is the Year, that meant feel-good '80s movies.
"I grew up loving coming-of-age films. They always tended to make me feel very good, and I'm a big fan of feel-good entertainment," he tells EW. "I'm a pretty optimistic guy, and I like to have feel-good kind of optimism in my films. So to me, I felt comfortable in this space."
The film follows a nerdy high school senior who embarks on a road trip with his friends to see their favorite band at the biggest music festival of the year in one last attempt to win over his crush. In addition to co-writing and directing, Henrie stars in it alongside Lorenzo James Henrie, Vanessa Marano, Alyssa Jirrels, Gregg Sulkin, Bug Hall, and Jeff Garlin. Henrie's Wizards of Waverly Place costar and pal Selena Gomez serves as an executive producer on the film, which is the first from BOLD Entertainment.
True to its millennial roots, This Is the Year will have a one-of-a-kind digital premiere on Friday at 4:30 p.m. PT/7:30 p.m. ET. The event, which fans can get tickets to now, will be hosted by TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D'Amelio and will feature a Q&A with Henrie, Gomez, and the cast, as well as a performance by lovelytheband. Proceeds from the premiere will benefit select non-profits, including the PLUS1 COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Ahead of the premiere event, Henrie talked to EW about reuniting with Gomez for the project, which '80s movies inspired him, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you want to tell this story for your feature directorial debut?
DAVID HENRIE: I really wanted to just basically update the coming-of-age genre and do a modern-day version of a lot of the classic '80s movies and flip their tropes on their head. And this story always kind of sat with me on a personal level because I've had a couple relationships, and I've learned so much from them. And the theme of expectation versus reality, really, was something that I learned personally from relationships. I feel like young people nowadays especially deal with the theme of expectation versus reality, what you expect love to be like versus what it actually is. They're not always the same thing. And a lot of times reality can be one of the most beautiful things of all, but I feel like young people are just so inundated with movies, TV shows, and social media, that they might expect life to be a certain way, and in reality, it might not be that way. I wanted to show young people tackling and dealing with that [in a film], and that came from a place of passion for me. So that's why I wanted to make this movie and kind of tackle those themes and do it for the Millennials and Gen Z.
Which classic '80s films inspired you the most?
It was a lot of the John Hughes films from back in the day, but Some Kind of Wonderful was a big one that had a lot of influence on this story. We have our Say Anything moment in the beginning of the film when Josh pulls up in the food truck, and plays music and gets Zoey to come downstairs. There was a lot of '80s influence on this film.
In the movie, you play two characters. One is a fictional '80s movie star named Patrick J. Michaels. Was that an homage to Michael J. Fox?
Oh, totally. Yeah. Patrick Swayze and Michael J. Fox in one person. We just wanted a name that screamed '80s, like just screamed it. And so that was one that we settled on.
Lovelytheband features prominently in the film. Why were they the right fit?
I was a fan of them, and I knew I needed a song for the film that could carry the end of the movie. When I listened to their song "Maybe, I'm Afraid" while reading the end of the script, it made perfect sense to me and I knew that it had to be the end of the film. I did everything in my power to try to get them involved, and I pitched their managers and I pitched their team. They really felt that it was a good fit for all of us, with their demographic and the demographic of the film that we're going for. And it just so happens coincidentally that the guitarist's father created Wizards of Waverly Place.
At what point did Selena Gomez get involved in the project?
It was a very organic process, actually, because we're obviously super close and have been close since the TV show. And she's now best friends with my wife and Auntie Selena to my daughter. So business is never a part of our conversations ever. It just sort of organically happened that she just kept hearing about the film, just when [we were] catching up with each other. She kept giving me advice along the way. And then it came to a certain point where she finally got to see the film, and she experienced the heart of the film, and she was really touched by it. And she was like, "David, I haven't seen a lot of teen movies right now that have this kind of empowering message, especially to young women, young girls. I love that, and I want to support that." So it just kind of came about in the most organic way possible to where we're both joining forces to support one another and doing some good.
The girls in the film definitely take charge but are supportive of one another, too. It's really nice to see.
Yeah, and I attribute that to my partner on the film, writer Sienna Aquilini. She did a great job making the female voices empowering, authentic, friendly, and not catty or competitive. She did a really good job with that and the two girl characters really cure each other and they both give each other solid advice which ultimately leads to making good decisions. It's not about a guy fixing them at all. They help one another realize what's important for both of them.
Tell me about the digital premiere. How did that all come about?
We, prior to COVID, had a 1,000-screen release plan. And when COVID happened, we said okay, well, you know what, we're not going to give up. We're going to pivot. And we have some real visionary partners in our team at BOLD Entertainment, who are our partners and the financiers of the film. And they're some really, really smart guys and they were like, "We're not giving up." Necessity is the mother of all invention. Let's create; let's innovate. Let's make a live premiere. Fans will love it. Everyone's sitting at home right now and what do they want to do? They want to feel good. What do we have? A feel-good movie. It's hopefully a win-win evening for everyone.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.