David Reviews

 "You're not an artist, Peggy. You solve problems." Don Draper.

FILM KLAXON: THE TROUBLE WITH JESSICA
8 May 2023

DAVID sat down with writer/director Matt Winn a few weeks ago to talk about his latest feature, 'The Trouble with Jessica', which we'd had the pleasure of viewing ahead of the meet. The film, which is currently being paraded on the festival circuit, and will be available to view in cinemas from 1st September, is a gloriously dark ride through modern mores and troubled relationships.

The film was prompted into existence by a perfect storm of circumstances, the most important of which was conversation with a producer friend of Matt Winn's who suggested that "making a perfectly adequate film is worse than not making a film at all". This searing observation forced Winn to be honest with himself about his trajectory. He recognised that he was making the films he felt he ought to make, rather than the films he wanted to make. It had to change.

His oeuvre is comedy, specifically "dark comedy, sophisticated comedy, American comedy, European comedy, independent comedy", and this was what he decided to pursue.

Another important circumstance was his awareness of the budgetary benefit of writing something that was pretty contained.

Finally, he wanted to make a film that meant something... and there was a subject matter close to his heart which he wanted to meaningfully explore.

The outcome of this concurrence is a film which puts adult friendships through an unimaginable stress test as they confront the practical difficulties and emotional upheaval when one of their number takes their own life.


Suicide is not a topic which many would be brave enough to feature in a comedy. Winn feels qualified to write about it having been at the epicentre of an ex-girlfriend's suicide: "It had a big effect on me, and I'd struggled to sort of come to terms with it... maybe in a way I was looking for a project to think about it creatively, and have something to say about it."

He likens the impact of a suicide to a stone thrown into a pond, with the ripples spreading out and having an effect on "family, friends, children's parents... you know, so many people". He says it affected him for many years, and although he never found it the least bit funny, he was nonetheless convinced that he could use humour to make some helpful points about the way it had affected him.


Making a perfectly adequate film is worse than not making a film at all.

 ”

With the film's action structurally limited by the decision to set most of it in one location, it was vital to ensure the screenplay, which Winn co-wrote with James Handel, was snappy as hell, and that the actors selected to deliver it were top drawer.

Unsurprisingly, achieving the first thing helped to achieve the second: "the cast really responded to the script, but it can be difficult to cast an ensemble picture because actors want to be the lead... and in a project like this everyone is the co-lead, and actors don't like that."

The trick is to capture the imagination of one celebrated actor and get them on board by using them to bait your hook and persuade others to come on board.

It helped enormously that the script provides each of the actors with moments to shine: "every character in a film has to have a discrete plotline that makes sense... they need to develop... having four really strong characters means sitting down and studying the script from each character's point of view and asking what has changed about them by the end of the story. That way, each character earns the right to be in the film, and that's something actors respond to."


The four leads are played by Rufus Sewell, Shirley Henderson, Alan Tudyk, and Olivia Williams skilfully wrangled by casting director Colin Jones and they each bring a lot to the party. The way the characters are pinned down in the same house for much of the film inevitably gives it a stage bound feel, but this proves to be a tremendous asset as the theatricality hugely works in the film's favour. Tristan Oliver's cinematography and David Freeman's editing provides the film with a dynamism that matches its sparky script, and it never feels weighed down by its setting.


Having four really strong characters means sitting down and studying the script from each character's point of view and asking what has changed about them by the end of the story.

 ”

In any case, Winn was well aware of the danger posed by it feeling too stagey, and he knew how to avoid it... avoid over rehearsing. "Good actors don't like to over rehearse, and, lots of directors don't like to over rehearse. You are not making a play, and if you over rehearse, the dialogue can start to sound like shtick."

Winn also treasures the unexpected moments generated by the nervous tension felt by everyone on a film set: "It's not just the director and the actors, the camera crew are nervous because they know they can totally fuck it up, the grips are nervous because they know they can make a crucial mistake. It creates this energy that can mean somebody does something that nobody was expecting. A bit of magic. You know, the actor does something... forgets a line so they do something else. And then because the other actor wasn't expecting that, they respond in a surprising way, and you end up with more magic."


Interestingly, some of the people who have seen the movie have assumed that much of it is improvised, something that Winn ascribes to its Robert Altman-esque vibe, with people talking over one another. But, despite what he says about the magic that can be generated by the unexpected, Winn is not a fan of improvisation and says that "most actors hate improvising".

In any case, there isn't enough time, and Winn is happy to report that almost everything on the screen was in the original script.

It's a remarkable film, and another wonderful example of the overlap between the advertising and entertainment industries. Matt Winn has unleashed the alchemic property of passion, and infused his project with it from first to last, making is both dramatically powerful and extremely funny in equal measure.

Matt Winn is working on his next screenplay but would welcome the interruption of some TVC work. He can be contacted via matt@mattwinn.co.uk

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