A lighthearted exploration of friendship and personal growth, the film “Trouble Dolls” grew out of the budding friendship of its makers. Having its world premiere on Sunday as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival, the movie is a collaboration between actresses Jess Weixler and Jennifer Prediger, who not only appear as costars but also both make their debuts as writer-directors.
The two were first introduced by mutual friends and then Weixler sublet Prediger’s sublet apartment when she was moving to New York for a recurring role on TV’s “The Good Wife.” When Prediger moved back in, the two were briefly roommates and it wasn’t long before they began writing together, crafting what would eventually become “Trouble Dolls.”
In the film, Olivia (Prediger) and Nicole (Weixler) are aspiring actress/artist/performers in New York City struggling to pay the rent even with their lenient, eccentric landlord (Jeffry Tambor). After Olivia’s beloved cat Seagull unexpectedly dies, they make their way to Los Angeles, where they end up auditioning for a reality show talent contest overseen by Nicole's aunt (Megan Mullally). Will Forte plays a guy who tries to help the girls out and Bob Byington appears as Mullally’s beleaguered husband.
With a heightened, madcap sensibility, the film at times veers playfully toward the absurd, building to Olivia and Nicole putting on a ridiculous performance piece as their big audition. Which isn’t to say the film doesn’t have a grounding in an emotional reality — Prediger’s cat really died while the two were living together — giving it additional heft. And that combination of reality and fiction also aided them both as performers and directors.
“When Seagull dies in the movie I had to relive my cat dying,” recalled Prediger during a recent interview alongside Weixler ahead of LAFF. “And Jess, it was such a gentle touch as a friend but also this incredible moment where she was a wonderful director of me in that moment and brought out this vulnerability. It was an incredible coupling of friendship and directing.”
“We were whispering in each other’s ears,” added Weixler. “As actors we could keep it between us and be kind of intimate.”
The pair were initially inspired by buddy comedies such as “The Odd Couple,” “Withnail & I” and “Dumb and Dumber,” as well as “Laverne and Shirley” or even the real-life friendship of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. “Trouble Dolls” also falls in line with the recent string of projects, many set in New York City, that explore female friendship and the experiences of young women, from “Girls” and “Frances Ha” to this year’s Sundance entries “Obvious Child” and “Appropriate Behavior” to the South by Southwest prize winner “Fort Tilden.” Not that Prediger and Weixler meant to be jumping on any bandwagons.
“That was a weird thing, we didn’t really realize that there were other groups or pairs of women, in various settings throughout Brooklyn and New York doing the exact same thing at the exact same time we were,” said Prediger. “It's just sort of something that gets in the water. It was sort of shocking to see the lineups for Sundance and South By Southwest this year: ‘Oh, God, it’s one brown-haired girl, one blond girl doing something crazy.’ "
Though both Prediger and Weixler are pursuing their own individual writing-directing projects now, they don’t rule out collaborating again. They both also acknowledge that there was something reassuring and supportive for each of them in having a copilot on their writing and directing debut.
“There was an odd momentum in having a partner, it created a lot of energy,” said Prediger. “It’s hard to get yourself to write and to make something happen, but when you have the dual energy sources, like an alternating current, it keeps propelling the whole thing forward.”
Without missing a beat, Weixler proved the point by adding the punchline, “It’s science.”
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