Romance is difficult. Capturing the uniqueness of your generation’s experiences in a movie is even harder, especially given all the easy clichés of modern romantic comedies.
Actor Justin Long has become, intentionally or not, somewhat of an expert in the genre with roles in Going the Distance and He’s Just Not That Into You. For his latest film, A Case of You, he decided to take the pains of a recent breakup and write one of his own, alongside his brother Christian and friend Kier O’Donnell (who plays his roommate Eliot in the film). The movie, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, follows a lonely writer (Long) who falls for a beautiful barista (Evan Rachel Wood). Instead of just asking her out and getting to know her, he memorizes her Facebook likes and tries to become her perfect match. If it sounds like we’re already venturing into cliché territory, that’s the point. The gimmick that a lesser, lazier movie might have relied on to fill 90 minutes of screen time is merely A Case of You’s first act and functions to set up what happens after she says yes.
EW spoke to Long about A Case of You, which hits theaters Nov. 6, why there’s no actual Joni Mitchell music in the movie, the cringe-worthy trappings of many romantic comedy titles and posters, and subverting the idea of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You co-wrote this film. Have you always had aspirations of being a writer?
Justin Long: I’ve always loved the idea of being a writer. I used to write in college and it was something that I thought I’d end up doing at some point.
How did this idea come about?
Keir and I were both going through a breakup. Not the same breakup; separate breakups…but that would have been a more interesting movie, maybe. We just started writing it therapeutically. We have a very close sense of humor and it kind of came from that. It was a slow development. We were kind of learning as we went. It wasn’t something I intended necessarily to do, but it’s something that I’m now eager to continue.
You’ve acted in your fair share of romantic comedies. Do you like the genre?
I actually do. It’s not necessarily known as a very guy-friendly genre. But I do. Some of my favorite movies are romantic comedies. I respond to kind of simple, authentic stories, and it felt like the least sensational route to go, while writing something we knew and something that was close to us. My favorite movies, most of them are romantic. … If you qualify Woody Allen as being part of that genre. I guess that was the goal. It wasn’t necessarily a lofty one, but we just wanted to tell a sincere, earnest story. And maybe since it was our first time at bat we chose to keep it simple.
I really like Evan’s character. She’s more than … well, are you aware of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope?
No … I mean, I could probably guess.
It was coined to describe Kirsten Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown, and retroactively Natalie Portman’s in Garden State. It’s that quirky girl who exists solely to lift morose writers and creative types out of their sadness. But she lacks any inner life.
Oh, like Zooey [Deschanel] in (500) Days! All of these examples are coming to mind. We obviously wanted her to be someone who was a complete person, not a one-note muse. What did you say? Manic Pixie …
Dream Girl. I like that. There are elements of that initially. It’s probably what he responds to before he gets to know her. If there is a twist in our movie, it would be that he gets her very early on and then has to deal with the reality of having someone. That was something that I’ve always found interesting. Once the chase and the fantasy of the pursuit has worn off, or has ended just by virtue of being with that person, the real romance and the real struggle of maintaining that kind of begins. We tried to touch on that. In order to do that she had to have a little more of an edge. She had to be a little bit more vulnerable and compassionate. I think in the beginning he sees her as that, though. A quintessential Manic Pixie Dream Girl muse. She certainly looks the part.
The quirky coffee barista!
Yeah, and the flighty, happy-go-lucky attitude.
What’s with the ’60s female folk singer references?
That’s what all the kids are into now. We wanted to keep it timely. This is going to sound really mushy, but when we were writing it … I have a cabin up in Massachusetts that we were all holed up in, and we were listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell. I was really into Blue, among other albums, but that seemed to be the one I kept going back to. I’ve been writing a lot more lately and have found that even when I do write or prepare for a part as an actor – I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious … but I realize it might … just a little disclaimer – I really love listening to music as a way to get into a character, or in this case to get into the story. That album was really big with us at the time. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the rights.
Oh, so that explains why Evan’s character loves “Diamonds and Rust.”
All of those Joan Baez references were supposed to be “A Case of You.” It’s a shame. It kills me. And I love Joan Baez. “Diamonds and Rust” was one of my favorite songs, and we were so lucky to be able to use that. Obviously, as you can tell from the title, we’d intended to use the Joni Mitchell song. Even when we came to understand that we couldn’t get the rights – it was just so expensive. I wrote to her, we all wrote her these impassioned letters and just couldn’t get to her. And I was then hoping that whoever picked it up, that maybe the distributor would … I mean whatever, blah, blah, blah. We couldn’t use it. But we all liked the title so much and had lived with it for so long that it felt like going backwards to try to come up with a new one.
That’s really annoying, but it seems like a fitting choice still.
It is annoying. It’s so hard to come up with a title. You’d think that’d be a no-brainer for a romantic comedy. It’s so easy to fall into like a bad romantic comedy title trap. Like “There We Go Again!”
They can be pretty bad.
I did a movie called Patriotville, which was a really nice little independent movie about a kid who’s obsessed with the history of his small town. He works for the historical museum and he tries to save it from a casino coming to town. There’s a side plot involving this girl. And I guess it’s sort of a romantic side plot, but this was around the time that He’s Just Not That Into You came out, and so they tried to give it a romantic comedy makeover. They had me and Emmanuelle Chriqui wear nice clothes. She was all done up and we didn’t look anything like our characters in the movie. They were having us do all these different poses and I jokingly said, “Oh, are we going to do the back to back, like, ‘What did she do this time?’” And the totally straight-faced woman running the shoot was like “Oh yeah, that’s the one we have to get.” Then they changed the title to Taking Chances, which literally could be the title of any movie.
So A Case of You stuck.
I hope this doesn’t sound at all that I was disappointed that we ended up with Joan Baez. I love her and Emmylou Harris and old folksy ’60s and ’70s singers. At the end of the day, it’s a song that I’ve always loved. Blue was just what I had in mind. White girl problems!