By Ray Pride
A veteran of Second City, who’s since directed HBO specials with Denis Leary and Jon Stewart, Jeff Garlin has also been a sidekick in a number of movies (such as “Daddy Day Care”) but most memorably, as the agent and best friend of Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” now in its sixth season. Garlin’s also captured John Waters’ one-man show, “This Filthy World,” on film, which just opened in England and should be on DVD here soon. Garlin’s feature writing-directing debut, “I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With,” is amiable, meandering, modest yet satisfying. It even inspired New York Times freelancer Matt Zoller Seitz, in his review, to the best sentence any reviewer’s written this year, and I will not strain to do better: “Laid back and affectionate, ‘Cheese’ is the movie version of a dear friend you could spend all day with.”
“Cheese” features Garlin as James, a Second City comedian still living with his mother, who hasn’t had sex in five years, and can’t resist late-night binges on cupcakes and milk leaning against his car hood in the shadow of Wrigley Field. James only wants someone to love him, a great acting part and to lose weight. The loss of the lead in a remake of Paddy Chayefsky’s “Marty” is almost as damaging as an interlude with Beth (Sarah Silverman) who he meets at a soda fountain. “The last thing I need to do right now is start obsessing about the hot girl with the free ice cream,” Garlin observes in his familiar bold yet slightly too analytical fashion. It’s a time capsule in two ways: while Garlin’s affection for the look of Chicago is glorious, his characters doing walk-and-talks down all sorts of streets is lovingly shot (by local cinematographer Pete Biagi). But in his large cast, the 45-year-old Garlin is also casting a raft of colleagues he’s known for almost two decades, capturing the niceties of their idiosyncratic styles with precision. Plus, “Cheese” may be the largest collection of insanely funny women in one movie ever: aside from Silverman, consider Bonnie Hunt, Gina Gershon, Amy Sedaris, Mina Kolb, Phyllis Smith, Rose Adobo and Henriette Mantel. The male secondary casting is rich as well; Paul Mazursky, Dave Pasquesi, Dan Castellaneta, Tim Kazurinsky, Wallace Langham, Roger Bart, Larry Neumann, Jr. and the laser-like meanness of Richard Kind. Garlin is appearing at the shows this weekend at the Music Box. On Wednesday, we had a wide-ranging conversation—”People don’t expect comedians to know about Kurosawa”—including about the changes in distribution and how it affects a movie with regional savor like “Cheese.”
You finished the movie a while ago, and now it’s being released by IFC First Take, which releases its titles on video-on-demand at the same time.
I was called by the head of the studio, Jonathan Sehring, and my movie is now their poster child. Just the term reminds me of muscular dystrophy. H3 called me the other day to congratulate me and tell me it’s done better than any of theirs so far, it’s a record-breaker as far as on-demand. I’m not used to getting phone calls like that! I’m used to getting phone calls like, “The financing fell through,” “So-and-so didn’t like it,” “This is not good.” But as a Jew, a neurotic Jewish comedian, I anticipate the calls where I’m told something bad happens! So when I get a call from the studio saying, “Gosh, thank you…” At first, I said no when IFC wanted to acquire it. I thought they were day-and-date booking the DVD, and I don’t believe in that. But when they explained this to me, I said, “I really like that.”
Forty million potential viewers on Comcast, maybe 100,000 might order: big numbers for small movies. It’s not five prints in five cities at a time.
We’ve gotten 55,000 orders already and their record was 22,000 or something like that.
Someone in Henderson, Nevada, can watch it at the same time it’s at the Quad [in Manhattan].
Most certainly. I learned this… I worked with John Waters. And the first time I saw him do his show, I saw him in Colorado Springs. Which is not a place that homosexuals, or Jews, or blacks, I think really would enjoy living. It’s a rightwing-ish short of place, and we were at the art museum, and you found his audience was probably made of every liberal in town, every freethinking person in that town. Well, my movie is not going to be playing in that town. But all those people have access to it now. It’s idealistic of me to think it would only be in a movie theater. I’d rather everyone see it that way, but this a great thing. And also people who live in Chicago who are anything from a shut-in to someone who’s very busy, they can watch it at their discretion, when they feel like it. That makes me happy. I’m for it. A movie like this one is perfect for that. I would recommend that any filmmaker do it this way. If it’s a large budget and they have a budget for commercials, I would want to do it the standard way, but for this I was happy.
Do you admit to the budget?
Yeah, yeah. They’ve already acquired it so I can say. Prior to acquiring it, I never would. The budget was initially five hundred thousand. But as I kept losing financing and moving around and shooting some things, and moving around and shooting some things, it’s around a million. The first Chicago shoot, the first L.A. shoot, the second Chicago shoot… And it was acquired for three hundred thousand. Most of that went into getting the deliverables in order, to deliver [a finished film to IFC].
All in 35mm?
It’s all 35. I am a believer in digital filmmaking for the right movie. For an improvised movie, sure, digital is the way to go. So I can just keep on playing with it, great. If I’m shooting a Western, or if I’m shooting a character study, something that’s emotionally deep on any level, a romantic comedy, like a real romantic comedy, must be film. Because there’s a distancing between you and the audience when it’s shot digitally, that’s my feeling.
Digital also reads as “soap opera” or “porn.” The lizard brain is thinking, “Oh, when do they get naked?”
Yes, it does. “When do they get naked?” That’s what everyone’s thinking. WE shot on 35 and that was a conscious choice.
It’s nice to see a Chicago guy like Biagi shooting on Chicago streets.
I had worked with him before and I really liked him. He was fantastic.
Was it an esthetic choice or also pragmatic to shoot a lot of the conversations between the characters as walk-and-talks on the street? Of course, it’s cheaper to shoot outdoors than building a ton of sets. It does have that, “This is Chicago in this moment and I want to paint my portrait of it.”
Most certainly, Chicago in this moment, I want to take my portrait of it. There were concessions I had to make along the way, losing the money, having to re-crew. All that sort of stuff. I had to rewrite scenes to make them work. They weren’t grand, ever, but you have to do what you have to do. You adapt as you go when you’re making an independent film. But yes, that was definitely a conscious choice, making a film about Chicago through the eyes of a Chicagoan, which doesn’t happen.
“I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With” is playing at the Music Box.