I balled my eyes out during “Jenny’s Wedding.” The main character Jenny (Katherine Heigl) is hiding herself from the family. We watch her wrestle with fear until she finally tells Mom (Linda Emond) and Dad (Tom Wilkinson) the truth: She is gay and marrying her “roommate” Kitty (Alexis Bledel).
The setup isn’t what made me cry, though. What got me was how realistic the fallout is. Her parents and sister Anne (Grace Gummer), are furious that she’d kept a secret from them.
The main draw for me was Wilkinson; I’ve always been a big fan. What I hadn’t expected was the strength of performances from Heigl and Emond. The writer, director and producer is Mary Agnes Donoghue, and the film was made possible through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.
Donoghue wrote the screenplays for “Beaches” starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey; “White Oleander” starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Renee Zelwegger; “Deceived” starring Goldie Hawn; and “Veronica Guerin” starring Cate Blanchett. She also wrote and directed the Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith film “Paradise.”
I was lucky enough to land an exclusive interview with Donoghue and ask the burning question:
Dorri Olds: Is Katherine Heigl difficult to work with?
Mary Agnes Donoghue: It’s the total opposite. Those are lies. Katherine is a joy to work with, and I now think of her as a friend. She’s a really lovely person. Where all of the negative rumors came from, I don’t know, but once you’re in the crosshairs, suddenly everybody is making stuff up left and right, and they’re going after you. One sentence told out of context can turn into a monstrosity.
I really think she was unjustly treated. She was terrific to work with — always professional, always on time. She was great to collaborate with and talk about her character. She never dug in about anything, and she offered her ideas. We made that movie in 18 days, and you can’t do that with a prima donna.
Did she talk to you about her reputation in the press?
Yes, she talked about how hurt she was by it. She is aware of it. You can’t not be aware of it. I think it is very hurtful even if you know the stuff that people are writing about you isn’t true, that doesn’t make it hurt any less. Especially when there is a vast majority of people who believe it. There is not much she can do about it. Once that tide turns, for reasons that you cannot understand, there is nothing that can be done. I hope the tide turns back because she doesn’t deserve it.
Tom Wilkinson was so well cast as the father. How was he to work with?
He is great. I’ve known Tom for years. He’s a brilliant actor. He’s so true and gets the material. Everything he does on screen is incredible. I’ve never seen him play this type of person before; someone who is held back and wants to avoid issues.
All the way through the story, it isn’t so much that his character is shocked, he just doesn’t want to get into it. He wants his life to go on on an easy track. From the moment Jenny comes out and says she wants to marry her partner, it’s not that he doesn’t want to try, but he just doesn’t know how to deal with it. I think of that character as a gentle giant.
How autobiographical was “Jenny’s Wedding?”
It’s not autobiographical; I was a rebel, so I didn’t keep anything secret, and I got in a lot of trouble for being so open. My older sister and her daughter inspired it, but it’s fictional. As you see in the movie, the parents are not necessarily homophobic, but it’s just not their world. They are people that follow rules. It’s about love, but it’s also about keeping self-respect and courage. I showed my niece and sister the script, and they felt it really captured a big part of what happened. Not in terms of the actual events but the feelings.
How is the movie different from your niece’s reality?
It’s not even loosely based. It’s just the wedding thing that they went through, and my niece is gay. My sister is conventionally Catholic, and I knew that was a huge step for her. Often people don’t want to feel they stand out in a crowd. They love their lives and are happy in their community, and they don’t want to become a subject of judgment and gossip. When I showed them the script I was glad they said that although the events were different I’d captured what they went through emotionally.
At the premiere screenings at Outfest what meant the most to me was the amazing audience response. At each screening, so many people came up to me and said, “Thank you so much for capturing my experience with my family.” They got it. They’d lived it. Coming out you’re made to feel like an outsider at best and an object of ridicule at the worst. The way they were laughing, cheering and clapping made for the best nights of my career.
What can you tell me about “Beaches?”
I wrote all of the drafts of the screenplay, and then there was a writers’ strike. To be perfectly honest, I was thrilled because it meant they didn’t change a thing on my script. So I went out on the picket line with a big smile on my face. [Laughs]
There is so much sexism in Hollywood and although you’ve been working steadily for years, do you feel affected by it?
You have to fight for your corner. If I had been a guy, there are maybe two other movies that I worked on that I should’ve directed. It would’ve been given to me if I had been a man, no question. Both were directed by men. One is “White Oleander,” and the other was “Veronica Guerin.” I talked to everybody both times and said I really should be directing those.
It may not be that they’re holding women back but that most of the people in those decision-making positions are men, and I think men are more comfortable working with men and that is what drives the boy’s club. You really do have to fight your way through that. In both of those cases I was incredibly disappointed that I didn’t get to direct them.
Are you working on a new project now?
Yes, my husband Chris Robbins wrote a brilliant memoir called “The Empress of Ireland,” and I want to adapt it into a six-part television series.
“Jenny’s Wedding” opens in theaters and On Demand on Friday, July 31.
Comedy Drama. Rated PG-13. 94 min.
Watch the trailer:
Dorri Olds is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.