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Tobey Maguire and Jacob Aaron Estes Fill in “The Details” in L.A.

Tobey Maguire and Jacob Aaron Estes Fill in “The Details” in L.A. (photo)

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A crisp, cool night in Los Angeles might’ve been the perfect evening to catch the Tobey Maguire/Elizabeth Banks dark comedy “The Details,” but it may not have been the best idea to ask for writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes for any. Giving incredibly gracious answers to the assembled crowd, he still concluded the post-screening Q & A for the film in Los Angeles by answering the final question about a speech in the film, “I don’t really have a great answer, but at the next Q & A, if you come to it, I will have thought about it.”

As Estes told the audience, part of the beauty of writing “The Details” was not thinking about it too much, though he certainly can’t be blamed for just not wanting to right now. Having endured many post-screening Q & As during a whirlwind week that saw the film sell to the Weinstein Company for a reported $7.5 million, Estes may have a case of festival fatigue as well as having a film that’s best not to be spoiled in advance. And yet frustratingly for the few who have seen it early, “The Details” is one that’s completely worth talking about.

A far cry from either Estes’ earlier slow-burning thriller “Mean Creek” or the group of quirky suburbia-is-hell comedy genre that it will inevitably be lumped into, “The Details” features Maguire and Banks as Jeff and Nealy, an upper-middle-class couple in Seattle whose 10-year marriage has lost its spark amidst the upbringing of their young son and the renovation of their already idyllic home, which is why their constant bickering is of far less concern to Jeff than the raccoon infestation that is pockmarking the family’s back lawn. Banks’ Nealy actually disappears from most of the picture when Jeff goes about finding ways to exterminate the vermin while appeasing those around him for whom he has about as much respect, like a slightly off neighbor (a wonderfully mercurial Laura Linney) or the couple’s closest married friends (Kerry Washington and Ray Liotta). Although he finds it in his heart to help out a basketball buddy (Dennis Haysbert) first with a job and then with a kidney transplant, Jeff’s preoccupation with plotting out a perfect life without thinking about any of the fallout it wreaks on others or even himself causes considerable headaches when he starts putting poison on his lawn to rid it of raccoons and the results end up far more toxic.

Though there are cheeky allusions to other films about domestic frustration (Jeff’s cell phone ringtone sound an awful lot like Thomas Newman’s chimes for “American Beauty”), “The Details” separates itself by placing the onus on its main character’s self-delusion rather than the typical suspect of suffocation by his environment, giving Maguire the room for one of his darkest and most mischievous performances since his all-too-short appearance in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Good German.” Amped up by a nearly carnivalesque score by tomandandy for the film’s first half, Maguire’s Jeff piles up one seemingly inconsequential lie after another to preserve a way of life, if not necessarily happiness, and Maguire is one of the few who could pull it off with a straight face. The same could be said for all of the cast Estes assembled, some of whom appear at first to take on roles that would frankly not be worth their time until a perfect, unexpected moment reveals why they were hired.

01282011_SundanceUSAVistaDetails.jpgAt the film’s Sundance USA screening in Los Angeles, moderator Jay Duplass joked shortly after the end credits, “You surprised me about 45 times in this movie” before asking Estes, who was accompanied by Maguire and Haysbert at the Vista Theatre in Los Feliz, whether he was conscious of throwing audiences for a loop.

“I was trying to surprise and amuse myself,” said Estes. “I frankly had a very general idea of what I wanted to do with the movie. I wanted to make a movie about adults, adult relationships, about what it means to be an adult and I only had one really childish notion and that was a man obsessed with eradicating his raccoons. And so I didn’t know where that was going to lead. But I was just trying to draw on authentic details from life and somehow they found their way into this weird synthesis of plot, which was surprising to me all the time, which is why I enjoyed writing the script more than I’ve enjoyed writing most scripts.”

Apparently, the film’s shoot was less fun, as Estes explained that both the budget and the shooting schedule were slashed dramatically shortly before filming was scheduled to commence. But by then, it had become par for the course for Estes, who had seen a few projects come and go since he last attended Sundance with “Mean Creek” in 2004. Estes insinuated his planned adaptation of “The Gifted” about philanthropist Zell Kravinsky that had Ralph Fiennes attached to star fell victim to rights issues and in his words, “It took awhile just because I didn’t write something that I really believed in that didn’t get killed somewhere along the line.”

It took producer Mickey Liddell and the commitment of his cast for “The Details” to avoid the same fate, but as Estes said, “When I saw the actors didn’t abandon ship when the budget got cut in half and days got shorter, it was really encouraging.”

01282011_EstesDuplassDetails.jpgThen again, that trust might’ve only extended so far. When Maguire was asked if he had trouble adjusting to the film’s frequently shifting tone, he got a laugh when he answered, “I always have trust issues. It comes from my childhood and it’s just what I do. I’m suspicious.” But then he added, “I was curious about how broad the comedy was going to be when we were doing it and it really was a process of getting on the set and playing around. In a lot of cases, we would do takes that have a lot of range and so there is a lot of trust in giving that to the director to play around with. Later, in the editing room, we would sit there – some of the stuff I did I thought was absolutely ridiculous and Jacob wasn’t going to put that stuff in, but I would say, ‘You’ve got to stay away from that because some of that stuff was just corny ridiculous.'”

As for the film’s ambiguous title, Estes preferred it be left up for interpretation, suggesting that assumptions that it comes from “the Devil is in the details” aren’t necessarily accurate since as he says, “I don’t think about the Devil in my life,” something that might come as yet another surprise for those who believe the film has a religious subtext. But after thinking it through, Estes said, ” It used to be called, “Yes, The Details” from a scene that was actually cut out – I just remembered why it’s called “The Details.” In the strange nine-month editing process I went through, we cut out a lot of stuff and among the things we cut out was a scene where Elizabeth Banks caught Tobey screwing around online [a late-night hobby in which he visits adult chatrooms] and Tobey had to explain to Elizabeth what he was doing and she said she wants to hear about it, she wants to hear it all. And Tobey said, ‘you mean, the details?’ And she said, ‘Yes, the details.‘ And that was what became the title. Just remembered that.”

Fortunately, Estes will have plenty of time to hone his on-set anecdotes before doing any more Q & As before “The Details” released likely later this year, but rest assured the film itself is already quite sharp.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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