Take It: Anne Fletcher on The Guilt Trip and Enchanted 2

The director also reminisces about the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical, Walk Hard and Step Up.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Anne Fletcher made her directorial debut with Step Up. Three sequels later, she has followed her own path with three follow-up films of her own. Her latest, The Guilt Trip stars Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as a mother and son on a road trip. That pretty much writes itself, but Dan Fogelman wrote the actual script. We got to speak with Fletcher at the Guilt Trip junket about dysfunctional families, her involvement with the sequel to Enchanted and her experiences as a choreographer on some of the great and notorious films and TV shows of the last 10 years.

CraveOnline: The Guilt Trip isn’t really harsh bickering, like even the Fockers movies which Barbra is also in are very aggressively dysfunctional. Was it important that there be a certain lightness to the way they go at each other?

Anne Fletcher: Yes. It was very important for me to keep them in a grounded reality that is more universal and not over the top, which we all love too. God knows I ran to the Fockers movie because Barbra was in it and doing comedy, which I knew she would be brilliant at. In this movie, I just really wanted it to stay completely in a real place, in a real sensibility so that the majority of people could identify with Barbra and identify with Seth’s character as a son or daughter, because I think our mothers all deal with us the same way. I felt like if it went over the top, I wasn’t sure what the movie was anymore. For me, I’m always usually somebody who comes from a place of reality anyway. There’s so much funny business that happens in real life, especially in these crazy relationships with your mom.

I actually don’t find those extreme dysfunctional family movies unrealistic at all, because I see people treat each other like that in real life.

I don’t disagree with that, but I think universally, most people don’t have that relationship. It does exist. It definitely exists, no question. And, by the way, it’s a heightened reality and it’s fun and it’s a little bigger. The Fockers is meant to be a bigger comedy and funny. You’re meant to laugh all the time. This movie, it’s a journey that not only they’re taking on the road but they’re taking emotionally with this relationship. So if it’s too far over the top, then I don't know where to physically go or emotionally go when it comes time for the real emotion scenes. It has to be a smooth transition with these people because I didn’t see the story any other way but having it connect that way. This mom who thinks she’s on vacation with her baby and even five minutes with your kid is the greatest thing on earth and now she gets to spend eight days in a car with him, she’s in La La Land, and he’s made the worst decision of his life. So the dichotomy between these two people, and they can’t speak out loud about what they think about each other. The son is definitely not going to be disrespectful to his mom, even though she drives him bonkers, but it’s the slow evolution of that breakdown that happens is what I wanted to see, and not be too big because we have great heart in the movie I think.

And in that emotional moment where he really wants to just drink alone and he snaps at her, she comes back with, “Oh, everything I do is wrong” so now it’s not about this moment, it’s about every single moment and you can’t even have that discussion. I definitely relate to that.

Oh, well I’d like to say too, moms will take a beating from us kids. We will abuse them to absolutely no end and speak to them like we don’t speak to any other human being on the earth and she will take it and take it and take it and take it. Then there is that one day where she won’t do it anymore, and you don’t know when it’s coming and you don’t know how it’s coming but it’s coming. And then she finally snaps, and she either screams at you and tells you off or cries or both. And you know you’ve stepped in it, and you know there’s no coming back from it. There’s this woman, as irritating as she is, [who] loves you more than literally anybody on the earth.

When she falls asleep watching home movies, was that in the script and something you were really looking forward to portraying?

That was in the script. It is definitely my life with my mother as well. We have home videos. Every frame of our lives were videotaped. We have now just transferred all the VHSes to DVDs and there are hundreds of them. My mom would always want us to watch the videos, as did Dan’s mom. When I first read the script I obviously connected to it because of the relationship with my mother. And then upon meeting with Dan after they hired me, he and I were talking and the relationships were very similar. As much as your mom drives you crazy, you love them so much and they have these sweet moments. Both of them were single moms raising two children and there’s something about that relationship, especially in a broken home, that it’s sort of the mentality of survival and you rely on each other and you become closer than close but then there is a moment in a child’s life when they get older that they need to individuate and desperately need to be their own person, and mom doesn’t see it that way. And it’s not anything they’re really consciously thinking of. It’s just something that’s in the DNA of a mom. So Dan and I, there’s a lot of similarities so it was easy to develop the script after I was hired on.

Did this movie start out with a different title?

Yes, the original title was My Mother’s Curse and that was based on the idea of she thinks she screwed up his entire life with women because she named him after her true love. The studio didn’t like the name and we were both coming up with different names. I think The Guilt Trip came around earlier on. Some people said, “Oh, My Mother’s Curse seems like a horror film.” It’s like, well, it could be for some.

So who came up with that amazing pun, and were you like, “Oh, of course, guilt trip?”

Yeeeah, I don't think I had that reaction. Honestly, I think Seth came up with it originally on set. It was really Guilt Trip and for me, I understood the pun. I got the sensibility of it and at first I was like, “What? Could we be more on the nose?” But it sort of stayed around and stuck around and people were responding to it and that’s what we stayed with.

I like it because it’s not a guilt trip. It’s only the level that they’re going on a trip together. He doesn’t invite her out of guilt. He has another agenda.

He does have another agenda but in truth he does. That was the idea, he does invite her out of guilt because his perception of her life is so mundane and pathetic. She’s alone and she collects frogs and she doesn’t do anything, she just waits for that moment to be with her son again. So in a sense, that is the driving force. He is doing this grand gesture, and this kind, sweet thing but it is because her life is so bad.

Are you still attached to Enchanted 2?

That’s a great question. [Laughs] I don't know. Yes, I am. I have a few things in development. We’re trying to see which one’s going to go next and how it’s all going to go but yeah, I’m still on that. I have a couple little things out there, just trying to figure out what will be the next thing. I don't know.

It’s surprising it’s taken so long to gear up a sequel to such a hit, and it wasn’t even a predecessor you originated but what has been the holdup? Where does it stand?

It’s a good question. I wish I knew what that answer was. I really don’t know what that answer is at all because I know that they created a new script and that took a really long time after the first one before they even hired me, before they even took a meeting with me. So they had that for a while and I believe there’s a new rewrite that’s happening right now, but I don't know what happened and why it took so long because I wasn’t involved with that whole thing.

Did you have any pause about taking on a sequel to a film you didn’t originate?

Yes. Yes, it’s a scary thing to go onto any sequel that you haven’t done anything to, but I loved the first one so much and I really loved the idea of the script. That’s the reason why I came on. Well, first of all, Jimmy Marsden I just love and think is the greatest and I love Amy [Adams]. I thought, “Oh, it’d be so fantastic to live in this world of animation and live action. I would really love to get my hands on something like this.” I really loved the script that they originally had that they presented to me, so yeah, it’s scary doing that but I was excited about the project. If thought oh, there’s no more stories to be told here, I would not do it but I still think there’s so much more to say in that world.

You really created a monster with that Step Up movie, didn’t you?

I don't know what happened. What happened, Fred? Adam Shankman’s always like, “Look what you did.” I said, “I didn’t do this. I did one and you and Jennifer Gibgot did the rest and Erik Feig. You guys just took that ball and ran with it.” Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. The first dance franchise, that’s incredible.

Were you a little jealous you didn’t get to do some of the crazier stuff they’ve done on 3 and 4?

No, because I would’ve never done it had it been my movie. Going back to what I said earlier, I’m such a person who has to be based in reality and completely grounded and make sense for us humans that I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it. I would’ve had them still in dance class, so they had the right people doing the right things.

Before that, you worked on one of my all time favorite movies, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

So good, wasn’t it?

I think it’s one of the great American movies.

I love that you say that because I said that to Jake. I love Jake Kasdan. I’ve done two of his movies. I would do anything for him. He’s so amazing. I think he’s so talented and I kept saying, “Oh my God, this movie’s amazing.”

So which sequences were you working on?

Well, all of them. There were so many things that had dance in that movie. One of my favorites honestly was the Cotton Club scene.

Dancing erotically.

Yeah, it was one of my favorite scenes and I said, “Jake, how far do you want me to go with this? I can go really far. I’m as gross and crass as they come.” And he said, “Let’s see how far you can go with it.” I said, “Okay, well, just be ready and if you need me to pull it back, we’ll pull it back.” It’s the silliness in how funny the physicality and what that world was that he created that I just couldn’t wait to get my hands on. Then all the music videos and all the different eras that Dewey went through, the roller skating, all of it. I can’t remember all the scenes because there were so many dance scenes that we ended up doing, a couple of vignettes.

And the Jewish executives dancing in the recording booth?

Everything. Every little dance thing that could possibly be done, I was like, “We’re there, let’s do it.”

And “Once More with Feeling” is still everyone’s favorite. What are your memories of that and did you know how monumental it would be when you were working with Joss?

Adam Shankman was the choreographer on that and it was stunning. That show has such a huge following and Joss just knew exactly what he wanted to do. It was almost kind of an easy job because Joss just knew exactly what he wanted, almost could’ve choreographed it himself. It was a blast. We had a blast. Adam and I are really good friends with Sarah Michelle so it was super easy. It was great. I can’t believe how big it was but I can just because of how big the followers are, how devoted they are to that.

And of course the infamous Catwoman. Were you involved with the basketball scene?

[Laughs] I was involved with every aspect of Halle’s character. Any cat movement, anything physical, we created an entire language for that character that Halle and I started on months prior. She and I started with the language of what cats would do if you were a woman and a cat. This is their physicality and we broke it down and we had a whole language, like a dictionary. Then we brought on her stunt doubles months out and got them to move like Halle who was moving like a cat. And yes, I had the basketball scene. There are so many things, but we had a blast. Some of my dearest friends came from that movie. It was a lot of fun to make that movie and I love Pitof, the director. He’s a great man.

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.