Ben Falcone talks about Life of the Party and how he pitches films
Let’s be honest, there are only a handful of films that could have dethroned Avengers: Infinity War at the box office. While Life of the Party didn’t grab that top spot, the latest film from director and co-writer Ben Falcone opened in second place with a pretty impressive 18.5 million dollar debut. Falcone’s newest comedy, which couldn’t have been released at a better time, follows Deanna, a mother who after learning that her husband wants to divorce decides to go back to college.
I saw the film a few weeks back and thought it was a lot of fun. This is a film that not only showcases how much most mothers give up to take care of their families but showcases female characters taking charge. I found this to be a hilarious female-driven comedy and was happy to talk with Ben Falcone about the film.
Scott: Hey, Ben. How are you?
Ben: Good. How are you doing?
Scott: Good, I’m sure it’s been a crazy day.
Ben: Yeah, but it’s fun. I love talking about this movie and all these great people.
Scott: I’m sure! It’s definitely a fun film. I think this is your best film to date.
Ben: Why thank you. That’s very nice of you. I love it. They’re all your babies, right? But this one, it was a consistently really funny movie to screen and to learn and edit it as it revealed itself as the film. I do really love it and hope audiences do too.
Scott: I attended the first press screening for the film, and the audiences’ reaction throughout the movie was just overwhelming, I felt, as a critic. I felt like everyone was into it. The laughs, and when they hit, they hit big. I really loved this movie. I thought it was hilarious. It might be the funniest movie of the year.
Ben: Oh, thanks. I completely appreciate that. Super nice of you to say. It was an interesting one to screen, man, because you know the surprise bit?
Scott: Oh, yes, yes.
Ben: I thought it would work, but I mean it got a pretty intense reaction. And what that meant to me was, A. it’s always fun to get that kind of reaction and when Maya starts doing her weird laugh and everything it’s funny, but hopefully, it also meant that people were really rooting for Deanna. So I felt like we were kind of getting into a good zone. So, yeah, thanks a lot. I appreciate it.
Scott: No, it’s funny you brought that up because that was actually going to be one of my questions. That great plot twist as well as a surprise in the movie. I don’t think anyone saw that coming either. So, I have to ask, was that your idea, or was it Melissa’s?
Ben: You’re never going to believe this but it was Toby Emmerich idea who is the head of the studio.
Scott: No, shit. Really?
Ben: Yeah. We were pitching him the movie and what’s great about Toby is in a very real way because now he’s the whole boss of Warner Brothers, but at that time he was the New Line boss. He’s like now, the king of the world or whatever. But what’s great about Toby is that if you’re describing something to him, he’ll kind of stop you if he doesn’t understand something. So if you don’t know him, you might think, “Oh, he hates it, or blah blah blah.” But really what it is, is he’s following you and he’s listening really closely. So in that case, I’m explaining this scene.
And the way that I pitch movies when I’m pitching them is I very boringly explain the whole movie. And right at that point, he goes, “Oh, I thought you were going to say blank was the blank.” Melissa and I literally got hearts in our eyes and we said, “We weren’t but we are now.” And he goes, “Oh, okay, cool.”
Scott: That’s a great story. You very rarely ever hear that. It’s always the opposite, isn’t it? “Oh, the studio meddled with the film and that’s why it’s not that good.”
Ben: Right. And in our case, we have such a nice relationship with New Line. They’re such sweet people with good ideas. And one in a while, they’ll give me a note like, “Could there be a set piece in the second act?” And I have to tell you, honestly, that’s one of my favorite notes to get because I get so stuck on the story.
It kind of forces you out of a comfort zone. And that note, “Could there be a set piece?” which led to the sweat scene because then Chris Henchy, our producer, said, “Oh, she could hate public speaking.” And we’re like, “Oh, you’re right.” And then Melissa immediately goes, “Oh, and I could sweat.” And I’m like, “Okay. Let’s try it ” and so, Melissa and I put ourselves in a room and laughed away. So, anyway, Melissa and I really do try to collaborate as much as we can and when you have such funny great people around you and a supportive studio, hopefully, you’ll be in good shape.
Scott: I have to ask, where the hell did this idea come from?
Ben: The whole idea for the movie?
Ben: Well, Melissa and I are both very tight with our parents, and Melissa’s mom, Sandy, was at our house. It was around the holidays, and Sandy might’ve had a pretty fun festive sweater on. And I was like, it was just such a Midwestern sweater. You know what I mean?
Scott: I have an idea.
Ben: And I don’t know why, but it literally just flashed across my mind really, really fast, “What would it be like if Sandy in her 40s went back to college when Melissa was in her 20s?” And I was like, “Oh, wait, if Melissa was the mom, that’s a really fun part for her to play.” If she’s been pent up in this Midwestern lifestyle, not that Sandy’s pent-up, but you know what I mean?
Scott: Yeah. I get what you are saying.
Ben: If you have somebody who’s, “Oh, gosh, and oh, my ” And then all of a sudden what if their life got flipped on its side and they had a chance to redo some stuff, what would that be like? Melissa and I just kind of ran with that idea and we thought it was really interesting. And thematically, we wanted to just tell this sweet story, and we think we did it. We wanted to just put out a really sweet and funny movie that hopefully families can go see and enjoy it together.
Scott: And I think you nailed it. And I’m one of those people who when it comes to hard R rated comedies hates it when they are all about the sex gags and the gross-out humor, and then they try to throw in a little bit of heart near the end. Don’t hate me for this, but Blockers comes to mind, it didn’t work for me because I felt like it was just very much like, “Oh, of course, this is going to happen. We’re going to force it in.”
But with this film, it was like a natural progression. You can tell that Maddie, the daughter, didn’t despise her mom, and then the more she interacted with her mom, the more she kind of grew with her mom and loved having her around. And then the friendships between her girlfriends with her mom all felt very natural. And as a result, it did hit those sweet spots where it was equally heartfelt and hilarious.
Ben: Well, thanks. I mean, one of the keys to that, I think, is we really didn’t want to do the daughter with the eye roll situation that you tend to see a lot in movies because Melissa and I in our lives, we know a lot of parents. We know a lot of our friends have parents. And people just don’t like their parents, I’m sure, and I feel for that whole family situation, but in my experience, everything is a little more complicated than that. And usually, there’s a really deep love at the bottom of everything. So, we wanted to just show this natural progression that Molly Gordon (Maddie) really was able to play so well because Molly is just the most naturally loving kid you’ll meet.
Right, when she walked into the room I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I hope her audition is good because she’s got exactly the right vibe for this.” So, yeah that was kind of the idea, where the heart was baked into the whole thing where you’re like, “Okay, I’m this kid, and this is my mom. I don’t know how to feel about it. I wish she maybe wasn’t here.” But also, I think, hopefully by the end of the movie, you start to see that maybe even Maddie is kind of enjoying seeing her mom in a new light.
Scott: Oh, you totally do. The characters in this movie are all great, and it’s very female-driven and female-centric. How hard was the casting process? Because I talked to Gillian Jacobs yesterday and her role as Helen was great. The character Lenore was also hilarious. She was a great character. How did you go about getting these talented actresses involved?
Ben: Well, that’s all through Allison Jones. We work with Allison on every movie. Her and Ben Harris, her associate, the casting directors, they have their little grubby fingers in every pie around the whole country. So, they brought in Molly, Jessie Ennis, Heidi Gardner and Gillian Jacobs who was on Love at the time.
Scott: Oh, I love, love, love, love….LOVE
Ben: Heidi, is actually a friend of a friend, and we shot this years ago, so this was before SNL and everything. The studio took a chance on her and saw her talents and saw her great auditions. And you get these incredible younger actors who are so talented. And I just really hope the best for all of them. But then you mix in their talents with Maya Rudolph, Matt Walsh, and Julie Bowen and I think you’ve got a nice little thing going because Maya unabashedly, I try to put her in every movie.
At some point, I’m going to have to stop because it’s like, “Okay, there’s Melissa’s friend again.” But she’s just one of the most naturally funny and sweet people that I’ve ever seen, so I try to put her in anything I can. So I do think we really got lucky in terms of everybody’s availability and the ability to put that kind of mix of people together.
Scott: Yeah, Maya and also Gillian have the best facial mannerisms in the movie. I loved watching them react to things and it’s just so funny to watch. They don’t even have to say anything and they’re just as effective.
Ben: Absolutely. It’s funny because it’s a good-looking group of people, right?
Scott: Part of it is that, yes.
Ben: And then like with Gillian her eyes will get wider. It was this kind of really fun side effect of testing the movie. We were getting really big laughs from someone’s reaction shot. And I was like, “What is going on? This is great.”
Scott: So, I have to switch gears, because I am so frigging excited about this upcoming movie. You are the producer of Happy Time Murders and I need to know something about this movie. Can you tell me something? I don’t care what it is. Tell me something about it.
Ben: Well, I’m not supposed to talk about it very much. I mean, I know that the trailer played really well. Were you there for that?
Scott: Sadly, I was not at CinemaCon. I was here covering the Avengers stuff in L.A. I’m so sad that I missed it.
Ben: Aha, well, I know that it’s a buddy cop movie and it is a hard R. You know?
Scott: Yep. I heard that.
Ben: Melissa’s teamed up with a puppet. Boy, talk about a different tone than the movie you just saw. So I certainly have high hopes for it. It’s still going through post-production right now, so I’m less aware of where we are right now, but I’m certainly hopeful for it.
Scott: Okay, sounds good. Well, Ben, thank you so much. It was great talking to you. Hopefully, I’ll get to talk to you again for that.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely.
Scott: And I hope Melissa’s feeling better too because I know she was not feeling as well the other day.
Ben: She is. She’s on the mend. Thank you though for that.
Scott: Yeah, no problem. You have a wonderful rest of your week and have a great weekend. And I’ll talk to you soon.
Ben: All right. Take 8,000 people to see the movie. Thank you.