Being Committed To Making Films About Women

11 January 2016 | 2:01 pm | Anthony Carew

"I'm not like Kathryn Bigelow or Angelina Jolie, I have no interest in making a film about all male characters."

"Either people are offended by this movie, or they love this movie," says 45-year-old filmmaker Jamie Babbit, about her fifth feature, Addicted To Fresno. "It seems like there's no in-between. And I'm used to that. It's been that way since But I'm A Cheerleader."

Babbit's debut 1999 cult film starred Natasha Lyonne as a girl sent to a Christian rehab for gay teens, its black comedy mocking conservatives and queers alike. Addicted To Fresno is, in many ways, a companion piece. "If But I'm A Cheerleader was about going to rehab, this is the story of what it's like when you get home from rehab," Babbit says.

"I basically grew up in rehab. I was surrounded by addicts."

It stars Judy Greer as a sex addict who blows, with typical destructiveness, into the life of her enabling, warm-hearted sister (Lyonne). Both films tap into Babbit's unique upbringing. "My mom ran a rehab," she recounts. "I basically grew up in rehab. I was surrounded by addicts. People trying to get sober from sex addiction, drug addicts, alcoholics. That was just my childhood."

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So, with Addicted To Fresno, Babbit again turned to comedy ("I've been to a thousand al-anon meetings, and I definitely always laugh afterwards"), and to Lyonne, the 36-year-old Orange Is The New Black star who has her own history with addiction and rehab. "I knew Natasha had been to rehab, thank God," Babbit says. "I thought she was going to die in the throes of addiction, all those years ago. But she survived. And now she's thriving. I cried the first day, when, there she was, in front of the camera, looking so amazing."

In the years between But I'm A Cheerleader and Addicted To Fresno, Babbit has directed three other features (2005's The Quiet, 2007's Itty Bitty Titty Committee, and 2013's Breaking The Girls), and innumerable TV episodes. Including stints on The L Word, Girls (Lena Dunham is a huge fan), Gilmore Girls, and the great Looking ("I loved working on the show, all the actors are delightful, and Andrew Haigh is clearly a genius," Babbit says, "I was very sad that a lot of my gay friends shit on that TV show, and that's the reason it got cancelled").

It was directing Married that Babbit came across her star; Greer's caustic character and great performance a counter to all her under-used, sidelined, marginalised 2015 'mom' roles in blockbusters Jurassic World, Tomorrowland, and Ant-Man. "It's sad that there aren't more parts for someone like her. If you think about movies like The Hurt Locker or The Revenant, they're all guy parts, and there's so much opportunity for male character actors. If there were a lot of movies like that, but filled with roles for women, Judy would get the greatest parts. But, sadly, it's just the nature of financing, what gets made, who controls the money in the world."

That's something Babbit deals with all the time. But she's committed to making films about female and queer characters, because someone has to be. "I'm not like Kathryn Bigelow or Angelina Jolie, I have no interest in making a film about all male characters," Babbit says. "I feel the pressure to tell queer stories, because I know that I have 99.9% more access and opportunity than any other lesbian in the world. So, I feel a responsibility. Especially because there's so many bad films in our community!"