A fancy lady’s ode to all things gross.
Interview with Writer/Director Brenan Dwyer
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thank you! “I Love Pus” is part of a larger project called “Potty Talk,” a series of web-based video comedy sketches about bodies and relationships. This series started in 2011 when I encountered a lack of comedy material for myself as an actress, and paired that with my own increased observations about gender roles in social norms. I decided to write some material for myself based on my observations. The project grew into a self-produced project that has produced nearly 50 sketches on everything from body hair to baked goods in the office to cat calling. Potty Talk has a completely female production team and features a majority of women on screen and behind the camera.
“I Love Pus” specifically came about because I really wanted to get messy and ugly with some of the personal truths about my own body quirks. I wanted to confess some of my really weird habits because I was feeling guilty about them in the context of what I was supposed to do with my body (more on this in your question on themes). I went way overboard to exaggerate my quirks to illustrate them and their stigmas. Why should I be grossed out by my pimples? What ideal am I pitting myself against that dictates that I can’t pick a scab?
I made it a comedy patter song because it’s fun, flirty, and palatable. It allowed me to play with real and often very serious issues through the lens that this sh*t is ridiculous, and we need a way to engage with the issues that opens people up. Laughter does so for audiences, and a quirky entertainment piece fosters discussion.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
More than any other reason, watch “I Love Pus” to laugh. There are social messages behind its inception and creation, but those pieces don’t need to be conscious for the audience. Ultimately, watch it for a short morsel of ridiculous entertainment.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
When conceiving of and creating “I Love Pus,” I wanted account for the imagery that came up for me around “femininity”: Pink and pastel colors, fluffy textures like feathers and boas, red lips and long eyelashes, sparkles and jewels, sensuality communicated through pouty lips, slouchy shoulders, exposed bosom and legs, behavior centered on beautification, vanity, and lack of exertion. These associations culminated in generalizations about stereotypes of femininity in its close relationship to aesthetic beauty and wealth. I wanted to playfully examine these stereotypes by inhabiting them while simultaneously contrasting them with reality.
My perception is that “feminine” is often a euphemism in American culture for “dainty” or to read more deeply into it, “non-threatening.” It’s the opposite of the masculine stereotype of dominance, physical aggression, and subjugation. That it is so incredibly tied into notions of beauty, and thus sexuality, is revealing. Women are not only associated with beauty as a primary characteristic, but also more subject to criticism and expectation when it comes to body standards. The only other gender group of people subject to more scrutiny over bodies is trans people – who are expected to endure intrusive public inquiries about their bodies.
This is a well-known, much-discussed, and oft-analyzed feminist issue, so I won’t pretend to be the best expert on it. What is noticeable to me in the context of my film is that while women’s bodies are the most talked about aspect of their beings, they are never acknowledged as functional bodies. Women’s bodies are not generally deemed desirable if they are large, hairy, colors other than white, oily, if their scalps produce dandruff or their faces have pimples, if their armpits smell or a birth mark in the wrong place, or if their body is frankly, functional.
The societal assumption is that women are valuable if they are desirable, and are desirable if they are not humans – in other words, if they do not have the bodily systems, functions, and flesh and blood of a human. “Femininity” is godliness, not humanity. The irony is that truthfully a woman isn’t a woman without all the bits and pieces of her individual mind, spirit, and body. And that, my friends, is truly being made in the image of God (IMHO).
In the design of “I Love Pus,” I realized that in order to visually represent many of the associations of femininity required also representing wealth and opulence. To create a fully feminine world (in the societal understanding of it) I had to imagine the main character as immobile, her activities as self-indulgent and lazy, and her locations, wardrobe, and possessions reflecting refinery, discernment, and prissiness, and therefore wealth. The element of class and privilege displayed in “I Love Pus” reveals that a collectively-supported image of “femininity” is really not achievable for most women, should they desire it. It is entrenched in a class system that idealizes wealth, but also one that enables the wealthy to buy a beauty ideal – through surgery, through clothing, through assistants and trainers, through their leisure activities and work (or lack thereof). It is a false perception that femininity is only expressed this way, but it remains a societal perception nonetheless.
Lastly, I was intrigued also that I had associations of femininity with uniformity. So often we joke about women moving in “a pack” or going to the restroom in clusters. Women talk about their female friends as their “girlfriends” and the linguistic choice invokes an intimate bond (like the romantic label “boyfriend”) in contrast to the casual phrases many men will use to talk about their friends, such as “buddies,” “the guys,” “dudes” or simply “friends.” I agree that there may be something unique, powerful, and valuable about groups of women in the absence of men. What fascinates me, however, is the social perception that these groups share something similar to the point that, when stereotyped and exaggerated, becomes the same. To illustrate this, I cast two women as my attendants who are both white, curvy, blonde-haired women with high-pitched voices, and costumed them similarly; they exhibit very stereotypical characteristics of femininity, acknowledging the racist, sexist, classist tropes that make up the idealizations.
“I Love Pus” volleys the perceptions of femininity against the real, very human interactions with our functional bodies. Pushing both the stereotype and the gross reality to its extreme creates a funny and oddly relatable celebration of women as complex, functional humans, even when we buy into perceptions and expectations created by a patriarchal society.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
Because I wrote, directed, co-produced and acted in the short, the final film is very close to the original script and my vision for its realization. The biggest script change came as a result of refining what story I wanted to tell. The final scene that takes place around an outdoor dumpster was originally conceived to be a big show-tune style dance number on a grand staircase, like in Hello, Dolly or Madonna’s Material Girl. But it didn’t serve the story to let the singer continue in her fancy lady world. It was more interesting to see her submit to her gross fascinations and inhabit that nearly as fully as she inhabits the other side in the earlier scenes.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Largely people have been enthusiastic and gleeful about “I Love Pus.” It might shock you to hear that many people have told me how relatable it was for them. As extreme as it is, lots of people have hidden quirks relating to their body that conflict with their image, and that seems to strike a chord. Comedy is always subjective, and I recognize that not everything I make is everyone’s cup of tea, but the feedback thus far has been overwhelmingly supportive and positive.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
No, it has only encouraged me to keep doing what I am doing, aiming to improve my work with every new venture.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I would love more people to see “I Love Pus” and the other sketches that make up “Potty Talk.” With so much content online, it is hard to signal-boost my work enough to let it rise to the recognition it deserves. Which is not to say that it’s the be-all-end-all of comedy available online. But it is fresh, relevant, funny, and quirky and I’d love for more people to enjoy that work like this is being made, even on a very indie level. I also want my work to teach me how to be better, to learn from other filmmakers and inspire collaborations. I hope that participation in film festivals and through websites like We Are Moving Stories that I can connect with people who will support, encourage, teach, and inspire me.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
In its current format, Potty Talk generally and “I Love Pus” specifically will benefit from film festival directors and journalists taking notice to get the word out to as many different groups as possible. Producers, agents, and others could help me turn my sketch writing into a larger project, such as a sketch television show.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I would first and foremost love people to laugh. Making someone laugh is the best reward for hard work. If someone’s mind is opened to a new perspective on expectations about women’s bodies, then the film has been completely, totally successful.
Critically, I would love the response to be complimentary of the ingenuity of the genre and aware of the social message. I welcome respectful criticism that takes into account my intent as the artist, and a discussion about how that artistry could be better achieved in the future.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
What do you imagine when you think of “femininity?”
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I am producing and acting in a play at CoHo Theatre in Portland, Oregon called Playhouse Creatures that opens March 17th, 2017. It also investigates femininity and women’s roles through the story of the first actresses on the English stage in the 17th century. Additionally I am developing a television pilot script about Catholic all-girls high school and a screenplay about a mediocre superhero who believes she must kill her parents and become an orphan to fully realize her power. I’m also conceiving a new web series that’s basically a roommate comedy with dinosaurs.
Interview: February 2017
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“I Love Pus”
A fancy lady’s ode to all things gross.
Director: Brenan Dwyer
Producer: Brenan Dwyer and Rani Lightle
Writer: Brenan Dwyer
Key cast: Brenan Dwyer, McKenna Twedt, Kaia Hillier
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists):
Funders: Regional Arts and Culture Council, private individual donors
Made in association with:
Where can I see it in the next month? March 2, 2017 at 9:00 PM as part of the Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon; online at http://www.pottytalkpdx.com