In rural California, Anna is hosting a New Year’s Eve party. Nina, a long-gone friend from high school unexpectedly shows up, bringing out the feelings of Maria. Over the course of the evening, Maria struggles with her feelings and facing the partygoers: a gaggle of eccentric millennials.
I had the pleasure of nabbing a special preview screening of this lovely film by writer/director Jaclyn Bethany. Existential dread, sparkly vintage eye-candy, surrealism tucked away there under the covers, and relationship drizzle combined with collective melancholy that speaks honestly on the New Years Eve house party. I loved every minute of it.
If they spoke in Iambic Pentameter, I would believe you that this was a Shakespearean party act. If the first half of the film was adapted Chekhov, I’d believe you. The sensational and textured relationships were a joy when they could have been a drag in anyone else’s hands, Jaclyn Bethany walked a tight-line and landed on the right side of good fun! Sasha (actress Elizabeth Yeoman) is a featherweight pixie dream girl in the arms of Alex (actor Joe Gillette), who is sharp, understated, and nails every single line delivery with a balance of comedy and authenticity. Our Russian (Vincent Santvoord) is unwittingly charming in his arc, until he is as uncharming as they come. Watching our costumed astronaut (Dan Shaked) struggle with Anna (Marié Botha) is a treat for the audience as Anna is THE WORST. She nails it, too. Great acting, great role, the most terrible person in the room. Our two obsessive love-sick old globe gals (Belle Aykroyd, Stella Baker) have this crazy crying scene that I cannot get out of my mind, this is a classic play, no? These ladies are fighting over the narcissist Dem (Bailey Edwards) and become a bumbling joke in their trope. The relationship between the woman who stayed (Aisha Fabienne Ross as Maria), with no recognizable face, no purpose, struggling before us with the utmost fantastical wanderings, calm and unaffected in her reactions and our heroine come home (Juliette Labelle as Nina), is a mystery most of the film, …or all of the film? Nina is perfectly cast to reel us in with her mesmerizing stoicism. Again, Alex and Sasha win the costumed drama prize in my mind, they are perfection in their eccentricities.
At one point, everyone is the worst person in the room. They are cheeky, ironic yet grounded, and trust the audience to know that we are all in on the joke. I’m completely charmed by the experience of it all. The themed and highly costumed event is what lends itself to the Shakespearean parallels in characters and errors, however, the meta decisions of the film team do find a way to break the spell. Not just because we’ve rung in the New Year, but because we’ve opened the windows into daytime. Just as starkly as we ever walk into daylight after an all-nighter, everything is just… different. But the existential angst persists. Maybe even more-so.
Luckily, I got the chance to ask Filmmaker Jaclyn Bethany about her midnight romp. I have so many questions about how she came here and all what she wants us to take away from this poetic dramedy.
Filmmaker Jaclyn Bethany: “I am originally from Jackson, Mississippi. I have lived all over – New York, Los Angeles, London. The past two projects I have made were based in New York City, so I am trying to be more on the East Coast, though COVID has made that challenging. Right now, I am home in the Deep South. I love where I am from because it has spawned so many incredible artists – writers and musicians especially. I also feel I am a New Yorker at heart, having grown up going there with my family and attending college there. So I suppose the two sensibilities make an interesting mix.”
I asked Jaclyn Bethany about her journey. How she came to be where she is… on a deeper level.
Bethany: “Extensive education, training, work and self-discovery. It never ends. I don’t just mean going to school, although that was a big part of my journey, but you are constantly learning and collaborating on the job. I have a background in theater. I think much of my aesthetic and attitude towards the stories I want to tell derive from good writing, developing work with actors and in a sense, poetry. I think all of this began with my love for theater.”
Bethany just wrapped post-production on this film, I asked about her plans for next steps.
Bethany: “We have a UK release for next year with Bohemia Media, and we are currently submitting to festivals. It’s a very fun film that takes place at a New Year’s Eve party. It feels very nostalgic, but also has a strong emotional core.”
The colors, the cast, the relationships that ebb and flow with each hour, there is so much to absorb. I asked Jaclyn Bethany about her favorite part of the process.
Bethany: “Production is always my favorite part of the process, and I always think on these indie projects ‘time on set is just way too fleeting.’ I want to be on set forever. I loved watching this tiny canyon cabin where we were shooting be transformed into a red and gold mini Russian tea room. Many of the cast members knew each other, some didn’t – that really added to the realism of the party atmosphere. There was a great scene between the characters who are best friends Natasha (Stella Baker) and Martha (Belle Aykroyd) where Martha begs Natasha to teach her how to cry. Natasha has taken mushrooms, and can’t stop crying. The cast was just terrific.”
Even though the costumes take the cake for my focus, the music is intoxicating as well, moving and mood-setting.
Bethany: “I think the music (by Maesa Pullman & Dalal Bruchmann) and sound design (by Shanelle Sound) are a highlight of this film. Our composers and sound designers were all women!”
Soundtrack details: Introducing a beautiful hybrid score of dreamy, pop, Slavic, grunge rock, folk, 90s soft rock and more… 40 track score of original music. It’s festive, beautiful and haunting. Perfect to listen to while having a holiday meal, or any time of the year. Check out a sneak peek with this medley. – Insta @jaclyn_bethany
I asked Jaclyn Bethany to share how she gathers a team for a feat like this. There are so many people to manage and moving parts in an all-nighter such as this one. I had a clear idea of what was happening at all times while still keeping the party moving.
Bethany: “I love organic collaborations. Many people I work with I have known in some capacity for a long time, others come into my life for the reason of a specific project. I am not sure I can respond to anything specific they bring, because everyone is different. I like when they challenge me and make the project come to life while also offering ideas to pivot my way of thinking about the story.”
Bethany: “It has been a big year for me. I feel it’s been a big year for everyone. We’ve had to adapt in an unprecedented way. But, I do feel, because I was able to get away from the noise of the “industry” during this time, I was really able to think about who I am and what I want. I really think I’ve grown in absolutely every way. I have days where I feel great, I have days where I panic like everyone else.”
Follow her work and updates on the film’s festival run and release: @jaclyn_bethany