Back in June of this year I was lucky enough to attend an event at the Writer’s Guild of America focusing on some of the highly talented filmmakers associated with Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival. While the entire panel was thoroughly engaging, I was particularly interested in screenwriter June Diane Raphael's discussion about the journey leading up to the creation of her soon-to-be released film, Ass Backwards (current theatrical release is November 8th with a September 30th VOD). While we have heard a variety of things of late about Kickstarter campaigns and crowdsourcing for films, the process that Raphael and co-writer Casey Wilson went through in order to make this film was nothing short of astounding. A few rough starts and stops, some fabulous tales of how these women convinced people to fund the film without really having much material to show prospective investors, and Ass Backwards now exists in its full and explosively funny glory for all to see.
After hearing that talk, I knew that I had to see this film. Raphael’s demeanor itself is so charming and I was genuinely curious to see what the film was all about. I was skeptical at first, but the idea that Raphael and Wilson believed in this project so much to keep going every time they were shut down made me buy the ticket. I also wanted to support women in film and women in films. After Raphael had mentioned that she and Wilson were literally told, when shopping their script around, that women will follow a male narrative, but men will very rarely follow a female narrative, and there’s really no market for that, I felt very strongly that these ladies should get my ticket money. I just hoped the film would be good.
Long story short, I laughed like I have not laughed in ages. My friend and I high-fived each other multiple times during the film. Like the rest of the audience we left the theater elated. These two women have written a film that is bawdy in all the right places, completely and totally irreverent and 100% charming and lovable. It takes a swing at beauty pageants, reality shows, strange lesbian cults and high school estrangement. At the same time, it really explores the deeper aspects of friendship, loyalty and female bonding without being cheesy or sugary sweet. Unless you count the running gag with Andrew the bunny rabbit in the Sephora bag. That was pretty damn cute.
Ass Backwards itself has a pretty basic story. Chloe (Casey Wilson) and Kate (June Diane Raphael) have been besties since they completely bombed a “Toddlers and Tiaras” beauty pageant in their tender years. They now live together in NYC and have each made it in their own very unique way. Then they are invited to the reunion of the beauty pageant that they failed so many years ago. Not only do the women see this as a chance for their own redemption, but they also view it as a delicious way to show up their now-über-successful former pageant rival, Laurel (Alicia Silverstone). What follows is a road movie full of insane adventures featuring two of the most oblivious and passionately sincere female characters committed to the screen in years. The appearances by Vincent D’Onofrio, Paul Scheer and Bob Odenkirk enrich the already delightful cast and Alicia Silverstone, although playing a much different character in Ass Backwards, serves as a fantastic reminder of her own fun and smart energies in another fun female-driven comedy, Clueless.
Obvious comparisons will be made to Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion, and if you enjoyed that film you will explode over this one. While certainly present, the comedic team of French and Saunders from “Absolutely Fabulous” seemed to also have impacted Raphael and Wilson’s style as well. The thing that Ass Backwards has, beyond the refreshing reinvention of smart and dynamic female comedy work (something that really has been sorely absent since those films of the late 1990s), is an originality that explodes off the screen in the right way. These ladies are not shy and there is no subject too taboo to riff on, something that requires a healthy amount of guts in the male-centered and driven comedy industry. It is one thing for films like The Hangover series to involve socially questionable comedic writing but it is clearly another for women to do it. And June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson do it with aplomb. This film is extremely smart, well written and funny. Director Chris Nelson did a hellova job allowing their brilliance to show without over-directing them or having them pull back. I can’t imagine what that set must’ve been like. If their Q&A at the Outfest screening was anything like the set… Oh to be a fly on that wall.
Ass Backwards is a film that is all-at-once hilarious, intelligent, poignant and accessible. While queer themes clearly infuse the entire narrative of the piece, this film refuses to travel under one label, reminding the audience that sometimes filmic definitions about queerness and women’s comedic value need to be evaluated on a whole other level.
Dear Kate and Chloe, thank you for being written. I laughed so hard I cried. I cannot wait until I can go to a theater and see you again. I think I actually miss you and we just met. Is that weird? Love, Ariel.
Ariel Schudson is a featured columnist at CraveOnline. Stalk her electronically at @Sinaphile.