Congratulations, the 2012 film from Juan Cardarelli and Eric M. Levy, tells the story of Jim (Brian Dieztan, NCIS) and Bridget (Abby Miller, Justified) and how their relationship crumbles after he proposes against her will. Part relationship drama, part comedy, the film takes a hard look at how big of a compromise is too big of a compromise for a couple.
I caught Congratulations at the Oxford Film Festival this past weekend and had the privilege of sitting down with Cardarelli and Levy (who also co-wrote the film) after the screening. They talked about the development of the story, how the film would be different with the roles reversed, and the benefits of co-directing.
Check out the full interview below.
WGTC: Where’d you guys get the inspiration for the film? Why make this movie?
Cardarelli: The four of us, including the two actors, we all think about marriage and getting married. We’re 30. Brian’s 33 and he’s married and has kids.
Levy: It seemed like marriage was a hot topic in everyone’s life, in one way or another. Whether you thought that it was a terrible idea, or whether, for example, Brian was already married and had kids and loving it. So there’s a lot of different points of view to look at it.
The idea originally came in the form of a script that Brian and Abby, the two lead actors, wrote. We came aboard and gave some pretty big notes and then we all started working on it together. So really for the inspiration I’d have to give credit mostly to Brian and Abby. While we did change a lot in the script, the spirit of that idea was really the same and really preserved.
WGTC: So neither of you have faked an engagement ever?
Cardarelli: (Laughs) Nope.
WGTC: Casey was a really interesting character. Very unique. Tell me about developing him.
Cardarelli: Well the Casey that was in the original script was just a guy that Jim would call and talk to.
Levy: Sort of like the best friend character so Jim could say things out loud to a person. Like an exposition machine. We wanted to make sure you couldn’t do the movie without Casey in it. So if you took Casey out of this plot the movie wouldn’t happen. The story wouldn’t play out the same way. That’s how he ended up living with the mom.
Cardarelli: You would always see that type of character in movies, the kooky comic relief, but it’s usually not grounded, and I think we really wanted to make it seem like a plausible thing that this guy would live with this mom and it would make sense. It’s sweet and endearing because they love each other in this weird way.
Levy: We wanted to reverse the stereotype of the slacker best friend mooching off the mom.
Cardarelli: He’s actually being a better fake son than the real son is.
WGTC: With what you just said there about reversing stereotypes, it’s been done more frequently in the last few years, but why did you write the guy being the one to want to get married and the girl being against it?
Cardarelli: I think it’s way more interesting to do it this way.
Levy: I don’t think the movie would work if it was a girl asking her boyfriend to pretend for her mom.
Cardarelli: You unlock something pretty crazy if you think about the movie and switching the genders. It says a lot about our culture. People don’t hate Jim usually when they watch the movie. Especially women are like, ‘Oh, he just loves her and he’s sweet and good looking.’ But if you imagine your girlfriend being like ‘I want to get married to you, I want to get married to you’ and telling her family that you guys were going to get married. People would be like, ‘That girl’s out of her f*cking mind. F*ck that girl.’ But Jim can pull it off because he’s a guy, and I think that’s really interesting. It’s not really in the movie, it’s one of those things that I think you end up thinking about after you watch it. Like, ‘Wow you get so much leeway as a guy with things that seem appropriate in society.’
Levy: If you look at what each of them do, he’s doing a lot of bad, selfish, mean stuff. You just kind of assume, ‘what a nice guy.’
WGTC: Co-directing can’t be an easy task. How was it?
Cardarelli: We’ve been doing it for a while and I think it works. We’ve been friends for such a long time, we’re sort of like brothers in that way.
Levy: It’s the only thing we know. We’ve found a way that it works.
Cardarelli: That’s how you get better at stuff. Someone always criticizing you and making your stuff better.
Levy: An idea that is not challenged, and is not the strongest idea in the world, is just going to be mediocre.
Cardarelli: I think that’s why it works. We’re constantly telling each other that we’re terrible. Not to that extreme but, ‘that’s a terrible idea. You don’t want to do that.’ It keeps us in check ego-wise and it makes us think everything out by having to defend everything we do to another half. I think it works. I can’t image doing it with someone else though.
Levy: That just wouldn’t work.
WGTC: What’s next for the film? Where can readers see it?
Cardarelli: It’s going to be playing at the Ashland Film Festival. It’s going to be playing in Cleveland, and then in Seattle.
Levy: Vail Film Festival. There’s a list on the website and that’s congratulationsfilm.com
Cardarelli: It’s going to be coming out on video-on-demand and iTunes in August or September. And Netflix and Hulu.
Levy: That’ll be fun when a lot of people get to see it and you get to read the crazy reviews on Netflix.
WGTC: Do you guys have anything else lined up in the near future?
Cardarelli: We’re writing these two movies, but we have to try to rewrite them until they’re great, then hopefully try to make one of them. They’re bigger movies. In the million dollar range, which is kind of what we want to do next.
That concludes our interview but I’d like to thank Juan and Eric for taking the time to talk, and be sure to head to congratulationsfilm.com to see when Congratulations is playing near you!