When the world insists that satisfaction only lies in romance, something is broken.
While it’s true that romantic relationships can be exciting and life-giving, there’s little doubt that the pressure to ‘find love’ is everywhere. But is that really necessary to live a full and meaningful life? In her latest comedy Spinster, director Andrea Dorfman explores and celebrates what it means to be single when those around you think you’re missing out.
Starring Cheslea Peretti (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Spinster tells the story of Gaby (Peretti), a woman on the brink of forty who is looking for love and struggling to find it. As all her friends seem focused on their marriages and children, Gaby’s greatest fear is that she’ll end up alone. After a string of bad dating experiences leaves her exhausted, Gaby realizes that something needs to change and she decides to focus on building a life of meaning and connectedness without focusing on romance.
Involved in the project from the outset, Dorfman believes that the idea stemmed from her own life experiences and revelations about life. Having struggled within that moment where it felt like everyone else was getting married, she wanted to tell a story that pointed out that there’s more to life than settling down.
“Every film is such a journey. It takes a long time to make,” she begins. “Spinster is my fourth feature film and it’s the second film I made with my creative collaborator, Jennifer Deyell, who wrote the film… We started working on it in 2014, and it’s been through many iterations of story and screen. Ultimately, at its heart, we wanted to tell the story of a woman who gets to a place where romance isn’t the solution to all of her problems and creates meaning in her life on her own terms. That is certainly based on my own experience in my 30s and people who Jennifer and I both knew who were single at a time when friends were all getting married and having kids and were really made to feel that maybe that life was not viable or lesser than. Then, getting to a point where it’s like, ‘No, actually what if this is the only life I have?’ So, I think the kernel or seed came from that time of life.”
For the character of Gaby, Dorfman wanted a known actress and was thrilled when Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Chelsea Peretti joined the cast. Though the actress’ age was important to Dorfman for this particular role, she knew that Peretti was perfect for the role because of her ability to balance deadpan humour and heartfelt delivery.
“The character in the film is 39 and we wanted her to be [that age] because it’s sort of an ominous [time] for people who [care] about age, I guess,” she explains. “It’s sort of the brink of middle age. If you want to have kids and you’re a woman, that biological window is closing so 39 was an important age. It just so happens that, at 39, for women actors (especially known women in Hollywood), there are a lot of them who are not working. So, we decided that we wanted to have a known actor to help sell the film and, when we were working with the casting agent, it turned out that there were a lot of women actors at [the age of] 39 who were available. That’s just the sad reality of Hollywood and women actors and film.“
“Aside from that, I had seen Chelsea’s stand-up special on Netflix, even before I saw Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I just loved it. I loved her writing, her delivery, and how deadpan and understated she was, and yet had something to say and a lot of gravitas. So, I think I just liked her as a human. I hadn’t seen her in much. When we were coming up with actors of that age, I was really interested in her. She was one of the few that we were thinking of. Then, she read the script and loved it and was game to come all the way across the continent from LA to Halifax to be in the film, which was wonderful… I think it’ll be interesting to see what she does as an actor, because she really does have this ability to tap into exactly who she is. That’s a huge asset because when she’s in front of the camera, you really believe her.”
By following Gaby’s journey through relationships, Spinster seeks to expose stale stereotypes about settling down. For example, in one particularly interesting moment, her married friend insists that the problem is that Gaby needs to ‘choose [her mate], not be chosen’. Dorfman points out that, while Gaby’s friend may mean well, her comments expose flawed cultural ideas about the need for love.
“In some ways, it’s a little bit tongue in cheek because it’s a different way to put herself out on the market but to maybe have some perceived control,” Dorfman claims. “But I think where that’s coming from is this idea that women should be a certain something. You should do something. That you should actually be active out on the market at all. Why? Does it mean that life won’t be lived unless you’re in a relationship? No, of course not. Life doesn’t stop and start depending on your circumstances. So, that was coming from a place of her friend, just desperately wanting her to reflect the life that she’s already living in a way. Its disruptive when somebody does something completely different than us, and yet has found just as much meaning, love, life and inspiration than those others who’ve done the more sort of mainstream popularized ways of living life.”
“You can decide to choose somebody and not be chosen, but we don’t have any control over what somebody else wants. Really all we can do is make choices in our own life and go from there and be active in how we want to live, imagine a new path that makes the most sense for us.”
With that in mind, Dorfman also sees that the broader culture struggles to celebrate singleness as a valid (and important) life choice. Though she remains completely sympathetic towards those who struggle with loneliness, she believes that much of our culture’s emphasis on relationships stems from a larger system designed to make us feel insecure about being alone.
Says Dorfman, “I think that if you do anything that disrupts the capitalist channels of trying to sell us things to make ourselves happy, then you’re going to get pushback for it. One of those things is to be happy and single. If you’re women, to be happy and older. To be happy and not buy a lot of things to beautify ourselves. So, I think it actually is disruptive. There’s a lot at stake in making people believe that they need to be in relationships in order to be happy. We’re always telling people that you can attain happiness if you buy these things. (Usually, it’s about buying things, let’s be frank.) If you’re actually saying to people, there’s another way you can actually generate meaning in your life all on your own, I think that there’s something to lose. There are structures in place that will lose out on that.”
“That being said, of course, loneliness is a huge issue in our society and something to be taken seriously,” she continues. “But I think there are ways to fight loneliness and to not actually have to be in a relationship. Probably the [loneliest that] I’ve ever been is in a dysfunctional relationship. We’ve all been there. For me, in my 30s, when I was going through this time, I think one of the things that I realized is that, if I can generate my own meaning in life [and] my own happiness, all the different supports and kinds of love that exists outside of romance [give me] a lot more control than trying to get somebody to fall in love with me or a version of me that, at the end of the day, probably has more to do with that person than who I actually am. I think that anytime somebody presents something counter-cultural, it is disruptive and creates pushback. It’s another way to be.”
In addition to this, Dorfman also argues that this ‘system of wanting’ taps into an innate drive to fill the void in our lives. Asked what she thinks we are ultimately searching for in life, she says that the real question may be how to become satisfied with what we already have.
“I think it’s probably built into our DNA to want,” Dorfman posits. “I always go back to the hunter/gatherers [where] wanting is always survival, you know? We want the berries and the animals to hunt. I think that we’re always going to want something and maybe that’s the problem. [The goal is] to try to let go of the wanting. I think until we do that, we’re going to hitch ourselves and our happiness will hinge on things that we largely don’t have control of and that will probably lead to unhappiness. So, instead of the question being ‘why do we want things?’, maybe we need to frame it differently and start to focus on the not-wanting. I’m getting a little bit Buddhist there I think, but it’s something that I actually do think a lot about. That things that we want often just don’t make us happy and it’s that expectation that they will that gives us incredible disappointment.”
For full audio of our interview with director Andrea Dorfman, click here.
Spinster is available on VOD now.