[INTERVIEW] Filmmaker Jennifer Kaytin Robinson does right by the genre and subgenre with ‘SOMEONE GREAT’

DeWanda Wise, Gina Rodriguez, Brittany Snow in SOMEONE GREAT. Courtesy of Netflix.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

Romantic comedies set in big bustling New York City aren’t exactly a rarity. However, when it comes to writer-director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s SOMEONE GREAT, the picture it paints has a palette and sheen uniquely its own. This romcom is unlike others as the filmmaker has ever so slightly tweaked genre tropes to fit her brilliant, impressive narrative about three best friends (played by Gina Rodriguez, DeWanda Wise and Brittany Snow), who are empowered women approaching crossroads in their adulthood.

At the film’s recent Los Angeles press day, we chatted about how she used the city’s iconic landscapes to augment her narrative, as well as crafting a romcom she’d been longing to see.

Is it daunting to make “A New York Movie” using these iconic locations? And also the soundtrack cue of “Moon River,” which is always so tied to that city thanks to BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S.

Of course! You make the movie for two kinds of people: the kids you grew up with in New York, who you want to make sure feel represented, and you make the movie for the world. For me, 169 Bar, Washington Square Park, those places are my places. I wanted to make the movie really accessible, but I also wanted to make it really true to my experience as a young woman who spent her 20’s in New York. And also, there is no more iconic place to be sad. I wanted to make sure I did right by New York and its genre and right by the women who this movie is for.

Speaking to that a bit, since this does fall under the umbrella of romcoms, did you feel at all beholden to some of the genre tropes – like the clothing montage, or a big song number?

For sure. There were definitely purposeful choices that I made, like the getting ready montage. I wanted that in the movie. What I wanted to do was make the movie that I wanna watch when I’m sad. I wanna create the movie that I turn on, on a Sunday, or every night to go to sleep. I wanted to make that movie. I want it to feel nuanced and complex and have an emotional core – and be a bit more than a down the middle romcom. At the same time, I want it to have all those elements I love, because, if I don’t, then what am I doing? I wanted to have so much fun with it while feeling fresh and new and exciting and in my voice.

Did you have to ask permission to use the name “Barbra Streisand” to name that Boston Terrier?

No. I guess it cleared. I just know that I get to set and they said, “you can use Barbra Streisand.” My favorite part about that was a Jaboukie [Young-White] improvisation. He made the dog a man. He says, “How could I not name him Barbra Streisand?” That’s maybe one of my favorite jokes in the entire movie.

The baby sharks was also… you can take everything else away from me from this movie, but I need my baby sharks. There’s nothing more New York than walking into an apartment and it’s like, “Oh there are sharks here.” That’s the most weird ass, New York thing. I needed those weird eccentricities of the city. They aren’t highlighted enough in film and TV how truly weird New York is.

Is there a trick to modulating those types of regional gags to make them still funny for people watching who don’t live there?

It’s just balancing it and making sure it’s not too “inside baseball.” What I want is for people to feel included in a New York experience and not like they’re watching an inside joke that they don’t understand.

Were there production meetings about the coffee mugs Blair and Erin drink out of?

Of course there were! Every detail had to be perfect. If you look on Erin’s wall, the velvet Elvis that’s in her room is because of my roommate in New York had loved velvet Elivs’. There’s a SWEET/ VICIOUS needlepoint. I wanted every choice to feel really specific. To me, that’s my favorite things in movies where all the little choices are brought together to create an entire world. Even if it’s not a genre, world building thing, you need to create a tone and a vibe and a throughline that feels specific to that thing. I really wanted to create that. I took one of the toilet mugs with me. Lisa Myers killed it. It was a mind meld between her and I of me giving her images and her executing it beyond my wild dreams.

The wardrobe in this is perfect. These are the cool girls you’d want as your friends and borrow clothes from. I loved the red jumpsuit DeWanda wears.

…The one she took home with her. I wanted them to feel like real women. It felt aspirational and cool and interesting and fun. What I didn’t want is for a woman to watch this movie and say, “I could never wear something like that. She looks so cool.” What I don’t want is for the costumes to make you doubt yourself, which happens. I do that all the time when I watch movies. I start to spin out that way. I wanted to make sure that everything felt really real and really fun.

SOMEONE GREAT begins streaming on Netflix on April 19.

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Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.