Take a former punk rocker out of her comfort zone and place her in the suburbs with her husband and new baby and you’re bound to have some pretty entertaining scenarios eventuate as a result. This is the basis of Jen McGowan’s SXSW-showcased film Kelly & Cal – a story about the relationship between Juliette Lewis’ former riot girl Kelly and 17 year old Cal, played brilliantly by Jonny Weston. In the lobby of the InterContinental in Austin, McGowan excitedly chats with me about how well the film has been received at the festival so far.
“That’s one of my favourite parts of the film festival [attending the first screening]; as an independent filmmaker, it’s the first time and maybe the first time in a while that you get that audience reaction, to go, ‘Oh did it work?’!”
As a filmmaker, McGowan sings the praises of her leading lady – Lewis, who is renowned for some powerful indie roles, as well as a dynamic music career, brings that unique ferocity to the role which is quintessentially hers.
“It was awesome, it was a dream. It’s funny, the other night somebody asked me, ‘How did you decide on these actors?’ and I’m like, ‘When Juliette Lewis says yes to your film, you don’t say no’! You know what I mean? It’s pretty easy.”
“Her energy is off the charts, but it’s intentional. She’s incredibly committed and focused, so it’s not a chaotic or disruptive energy – it’s a highly focused, creative energy. There is a difference and there can be a fine line between the two. She was a dream to work with.”
While the film itself flirts with preconceived ideas of lifestyle stereotypes, relationships and where the line between friendship and something more meet, Kelly & Cal is refreshing, not only in narrative matter, but in execution. McGowan touches on the cast dynamic and how this eventually came through the final product.
“There’s an instant…I don’t want to say ‘conflict’, because it’s not a fight, but there is an interesting energy or kineticism to them. When people say, ‘What is your film about?’, I feel there are two answers, one is the plot and one is the essence or the core of what the film is about. The plot is about this new mother who used to be a punk rock chick, who’s moved to the suburbs with her new husband and baby and it’s not working out. She strikes up this relationship with this 17 year old boy in her neighbourhood and it’s about their relationship. I have to always add that it’s not just a drama, there are lots of elements of comedy throughout. That’s the plot, but for me, it’s about identity, it’s about growing up and it’s about marriage. It’s about going through all the different phases in your life in a way that is authentic.”
As an independent filmmaker, McGowan acknowledges the ups and downs which face not only herself, but others in her field. With Kelly & Cal being her debut feature length film, there is obviously a special connection which exists between the creator and the product here. With regard to SXSW, it seems fairly evident that the film has done what McGowan envisioned it to do.
“It’s very important for me that my films are universally accessible. I want to do films that everyone can connect to as human beings, not a specific type or genre or whatever. In the premiere, there were just as many laughs coming from the guys and, not that we specifically need male approval, but in a film like this with a woman lead, it’s important that everyone connects with it and they did.”