Spinster is a different kind of romantic comedy. It has many of the familiar tropes audiences know and love. But instead of a mismatched couple falling hopelessly in love, the movie tackles the expectations placed on people – especially women – when they reach a certain age. AIPT talked with director Andrea Dorfman about her latest feature, working with Chelsea Peretti, and she turning 40 in Hollywood.
AIPT: How important was it for you to avoid having using rom-com tropes in Spinster?
Andrea Dorfman: Well, I think that rom-coms work for a reason. They have certain markers that the audience expects to meet, certain plot points and time. I think that there is something to be said for an audience being led down a certain path of familiarity, and I think that can really work.
But the whole basis of Spinster is set up on the idea that you don’t have to have this so-called happy ending that looks a very specific way. And so to lead people down the path, but then to give them something different, in some ways, I think the rom-com is the perfect vessel for that to happen within the perfect format. So we did want to use it very strategically, but only to deliver something else, something new, something different.
AIPT: What was your inspiration behind Spinster?
Dorfman: The inspiration, I would say, came from a bunch of different places. Jennifer Deyell, the writer, she and I had been working on this film for several years. Originally we started out co-writing the film, and then she’s the writer and I’m the story editor and director. But for us, it was born out of a time of our lives in our thirties.
For me, I was single and a lot of people I knew were getting married and having kids and it felt like I was, from a societal standpoint, in a place that was very undesirable. It was not a great place to be. You didn’t want to be single, even though the word “spinster” isn’t used anymore, the objective is to meet somebody, to get hitched, to be in a couple, and I really felt that.
I had a friend who once said, “Well, what if you never meet somebody?” And that really made me think because it’s true. What if somebody never meets somebody, does that mean that their life is not meaningful and viable and is happiness not attainable? And that really motivated me in a way that I hadn’t considered before to invent a life that maybe looks different.
So I think that the deep roots of this film go back to that time of my life. But as far as more recent inspiration, I think it’s all around us. The reason why a romantic comedy is so popular is because of that very specific ending that happens that the audience wants and feels entitled to. And I think that it translates to life. There’s this entitlement to romance that people feel very much that unless we attain, we won’t necessarily achieve a level of happiness that is desirable.
AIPT: Spinster deals with, it’s seemingly an antiquated notion about the idea that a woman turns 30 and she has to hurry up and get married and have kids. Does it surprise you that not only is it realistic, but it’s very, very relatable even today?
Dorfman: Yeah, no, it doesn’t surprise me at all. I mean, I think our full capitalistic system sells a way of life that includes couple-dom and kid-dom. There are certain markers that we’re supposed to achieve by certain ages in order to supposedly be happy. So even though the word spinster, of course, is antiquated and people don’t use it the same way, I think that it’s there and it’s just as undesired position to find yourself in as it used to be. And I think we’re fooling ourselves to think that it’s not. I think that’s why dating apps are so incredibly popular and we’re constantly seeing images and stories of people who find this like unbelievable level of happiness in finding a romantic partner.
AIPT: You know, I didn’t even think about dating apps. That’s a really good point. What do you want audiences to take away from Spinster?
Dorfman: I would love audiences to take away an idea that is more about leaning into the uncertainty of life, leading into the ability to invent a different kind of life. But there’s no one way of living that … you know, it’s not a one size fits all situation here for humanity. I think there are all sorts of different ways to live and to find meaning and fulfillment. And it’s up to us sometimes to invent new ways maybe that we don’t see, that maybe aren’t the endings of Hollywood movies or an image on a billboard or in a magazine. And I think when you open up to that uncertainty to maybe a possibility of not knowing, I think you open up to incredible pathways into new ways of living that you could never have conceived of. So I guess all to say if I could just encapsulate in something a bit smaller is to stay open to different ways of being, instead of thinking that there’s just one way.
AIPT: In the movie, there’s a really clear progression of time. There’s the title cards with the seasons. Why did you decide to go that route with it?
Dorfman: Because there was something about the symbolism of the 39th year. It’s almost like 40 is a scary number, a scary age. Women are over the hill at 40. And I have to say, it’s quite amazing. In Hollywood, a lot of actors, a lot of women actors who have incredible careers before 40, kind of drop off after 40. It’s harder, those roles go to younger women.
I don’t think that’s a myth. So we wanted to use the year, that specific year in her life, and also to use her birthday as a frame to show this is where she’s at on her 39th birthday. And now here she is one year later. And it’s just an easy way to come back full circle.
AIPT: And one of the things that I got out of the movie was, Gaby’s story, of course, is the central one to the story, but there seems to be a little subplot going where it was just people in general were trying to find themselves, they’re trying to accept themselves. Was that intentional or was it just a byproduct of everything that was happening?
Dorfman: I think everybody is, in the beginning, a little bit at loose ends and all the relationships that intersect with Gaby are injured or damaged, have problems. And I think as she comes into her own, and her own acceptance as to the status that she is, I think all of those relationships start to ease up and become healthier.
AIPT: I read the description, I saw Chelsea Peretti and I think she’s really funny, but in a rom-com setting, I was a little worried because of her dry sense of humor. It turns out that she was really great at the part. How did you get her attached to the movie?
Dorfman: Yeah, I mean, it’s so funny because, like I was saying, there are a lot of women that age, actors in Hollywood, who are actually available, not that they’re all going to fly across the country to be in … I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that’s where the film was shot and it couldn’t be farther away and be on the same continent as LA, like literally it’s the Atlantic, Northeast Atlantic Coast compared to California.
So, who’s going to come and do that? I had seen Chelsea in a stand-up special on Netflix. I hadn’t even seen Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and I’d seen her in a small role in a television show. And I just really loved her vibe and what she had to say in her stand-up. And I thought she seemed like a really cool person.
So when we were making the short list for the film, she was one of the people on it. And we worked with the LA agent, casting agent, who got in touch with her and said, “Yeah, I can get her the script.” And she really loved the script.
My creative collaborator is brilliant and funny and I think Chelsea thought that she could do something with it, and she could, and she did. So I think it’s just a testament to great timing. Brooklyn Nine-Nine was over for the season and then she had some time and she was up for the challenge of being the lead in a feature film. And it just all worked out. I mean, it’s a little bit serendipitous, like all things are.
AIPT: what future project projects are you working on?
Dorfman: I’m also an animator and I’m working on two different back-to-back animated films. That’s what I’m currently working on right now. The other project, my collaborator, the writer of the film, Jennifer Deyell, and I have another film that we’re working on, another feature film. As you can imagine, feature films are expensive and hard to get off the ground, so I do smaller projects in between.