Two years ago, Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones, a couple in their 20s, made a semi-autobiographical movie about their relationship called Breaking Upwards. After writing, starring, and directing the film on a budget of $15,000, the real life couple was instantly catapulted to indie fame. Now, Wein and Lister-Jones return with a sophomore effort starring Greta Gerwig and financed by Fox Searchlight.
In Lola Versus, which is currently playing at the Tribeca Film Festival and will be in theaters June 8, Gerwig plays a 29-year-old New Yorker whose fiancé break up with her just before the wedding, sending Lola on a familiar misadventure through the modern urban dating scene. And though Wein stayed behind the camera this time around and Lister-Jones appears as Gerwig’s witty gal pal, the rom-com is no less defined by the couple’s knack for clever dialogue and twee appeal.
Lister Jones, 29, recently spoke to Elle.com about collaborating with her longtime beau, why they can’t seem to shake the break-up theme, and getting the aesthetics of the film correct for the hip 20s and 30s set.
ELLE: For those of us who fell in love with Breaking Upwards, how would you describe this next film and what we can expect from it?
ZLS: I think Daryl and I are still investigating modern relationships in New York City, but in this film the protagonist is singularly female in more ways than one. I think it has our brand of humor and tonal fluidity that goes between comedy and poignant raw emotion, so I think fans of Breaking Upwards will hopefully really like it.
ELLE: Why is it that you think you guys keep returning to the fraught theme of break ups?
ZLJ: When we were making Breaking Upwards, during the writing process, Daryl and I talked a lot about our varying experiences of being a single man versus a single woman and how, for me, those experiences were much more war-torn than his. I also had a lot of friends that were single and it sort of felt like this chain epidemic of awesome women who were struggling to find Mr. Right in New York City and competing with supermodels at every turn, which is just sort of the regular women’s plight. It felt like a good moment to tell this story because it really hadn’t been told in a way that felt authentic to us and to our world. We wanted our female protagonist to be funny and unapologetic and make mistakes, and ultimately to be searching for something different than what we see in most convent romantic comedies, which is, you know, prince charming.
ELLE: What is it like co-writing with someone who is also your boyfriend? Do you end up mining your own relationship for material?
ZLJ: Probably in a deeply subconscious way, but I don’t think we really take anything directly from our real life experiences—maybe a couple things here and there. It gets easier. Breaking Upwards was really our first time collaborating and that was such a deeply personal project that the writing process was pretty complicated and meta and we had to dig through some painful experiences for the sake of our art. This I think was easier because it wasn’t as deeply personal. Its inception was maybe loosely based on some of our discussions of my experiences, but this was just more fun to write and it came quite quickly to us—we wrote it in three months. We always bicker, but I think all couples bicker even when they’re not writing screenplays about breakups.
ELLE: Your films appeal to a younger set of audiences than other rom-coms, perhaps because people in their 20s and early 30s see themselves in your characters—down to the way they dress, their apartments, their lifestyles. How important is it for you to get those details right?
ZLJ: It’s super important. Daryl and I are pretty careful about keeping those details authentic to our world because I think when you are reporting from the belly of the beast, so to speak, it’s really important that you’re representing the world that you’re speaking from in a way that feels relatable. And so the aesthetic and the style of the film and the costumes are all really important to our vision as filmmakers. But it’s a natural process. Daryl and I have specific tastes in clothes so that becomes the wardrobe of our characters and then when the movie is over we try to keep the clothes. So…we save a lot of money that way!
ELLE: What was behind the decision of you and Daryl not reuniting as an on-screen couple this time around?
ZLJ: He was too handsome—he was stealing my light! No. I think Darryl was overwhelmed during our first film especially because of how guerilla and homespun the filming was and because it was made on such a micro budget. I think it was difficult to be behind and in front of the camera and also writing and executive producing. It was madness. So I think for this, he was excited to just focus creatively on directing and writing. You know, I think Breaking Upwards, because it was loosely based on us, it felt organic for us to play those roles and we didn’t want this to be autobiographical in any sense. We felt we had done that already.
ELLE: Have you guys already begun working on your next project together?
ZLJ: We have another movie with Fox Searchlight, tentatively titled Mother Fucker, which will never make it past the board! It’s about a young man who falls in love with his girlfriend’s mother so it’s sort of an updated reversal of The Graduate. And I think we will continue to collaborate hopefully for a long time. We’re a good team!