Entertainment » Movies

'Stuff' Happens :: New Film Looks at Complications in Long-term Relationships

by Frank J. Avella
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Jul 27, 2015

Deb (Yvonne Jung) and Trish (Karen Silas) have been together for 14 years. They have two girls and live in suburbia, but the relationship is rocky at best. Trish has been an emotional wreck since losing her dad five years ago, neglecting her wife and her girls and hounding her mom (Phyliss Somerville). Distraught, Deb pursues a growing attraction to Jamie (Traci Dinwiddle), the mother of one of her daughter's school friends. Is there hope for these two women to somehow find their way back to one another? The new film, Stuff, examines the possibilities.

Writer-director Suzanne Guacci weaves a potent narrative where audience sympathies shift and gray areas are explored in the lives of a handful of strong but flawed women (of all ages) trying to survive an increasingly demanding and unforgiving world.


Women Dominate

2015 seems to be gearing up as the year women finally dominate film. In Hollywood, "Spy" kicked box office ass. The female-focused, "Mad Max: Fury Road" is one of the best-reviewed movies of the year. The hilarious new comedy "Trainwreck," written and starring runaway train Amy Schumer, should add to the lady-domination of the summer.

Indieland offerings include the upcoming "Mistress America," "Diary of a Teenage Girl," and "Grandma," all three are some of the best-acted and written films in recent memory. LGBT-themed indies are no different with more female-centric pics being featured at festivals. What's most exciting is that these are films are written and directed by women and focus on the lives of women--real women, warts and all.

Guacci joins this growing group of gifted and unstoppable female artists. I spoke to her on the eve of the "Stuff" screening at Outfest Los Angeles (one month after World Premiering at Frameline San Francisco). The filmmaker began her career as an actress in indie films as well as community and regional theatre. "Stuff is her fifth film, her second narrative feature. She started writing out of love for her craft and sheer necessity.

"I wasn't being cast and I felt like I had so much I wanted to say and do, but I wasn't being given the opportunity. Guacci shares, "Life leads you down many weird roads, I became a police officer for a few years. And then I wound up getting into the other side of the camera, writing, which allowed me the ability to work with these ladies ? Karen and Yvonne are the most fabulous fucking actresses ? and to write something that gives them the opportunity to be out there again after raising their own kids, that's just a beautiful thing."


A Personal Feel

"Stuff" has a personal feel about it but is only marginally autobiographical. "I definitely used a few things from my life to catapult us into the story." Guacci's desire was to examine the complexities involved in maintaining a long-term relationship. "It is not easy," she offers. "The effects that time and stuff-kids, family, pressures from jobs-have and the things that get in the way...All the beautiful things get lost over time and it's difficult to find your way back."

Guacci creates a fascinating dynamic where, audience loyalties may sway and alter but swing back around to the central couple after a heartbreaking scene between Deb and Trish after both attend a school play. "It's tricky because you want to root for the family, for the unit," Guacci explains. "And that's the thing we had to hold onto throughout, that there's no clear cut good guy/bad guy. It was just what life presented that caused them to lose track and that scene was a very crucial scene. That scene hopefully makes you want them to try and find a way to work it out."

The film's development took about two and a half years as Guacci wrote and rewrote the script. "When I felt it was strong enough to put it out there for actors, I was very careful who I picked. I did a lot of research. It was my history of loving Karen Silas, loving Yvonne Jung's work. They were my first choices. So I got it to them, right off the bat. And once I had my Deb and Trish, everything started to fall into place."


A Natural

Another Guacci is part of the "Stuff" family. Maya, daughter of Suzanne, plays Suzie, the ambitious child who wants the lead in her school play (and only the lead). "I wrote it with her in mind. She's been doing theatre since she's 4. She's definitely a natural. She's quite a directable little girl. It's rare. She understands scenes, motivations." Proud mama pauses and then exclaims, "She's the best thing I ever produced."


The last minute casting of Phyliss Somerville ("The Big C") proved pivotal to creating a dynamic ensemble. "I had another woman that just didn't work out," Guacci says. "Phyliss came on literally days before the first day of filming. It was very fast. It's amazing how these women all had such an understanding of their characters and gave such nuanced performances. It didn't really require me to do a whole hell of a lot because they understood exactly who these women were beyond anything I had written, beyond our conversations. And Phyliss only shot for 4 days and brought it. It was unbelievable."

Filming took place in Long Island and lasted 19 days with Guacci at the helm: "I had to (direct). Anything I write is in my head, in my heart. I couldn't imagine turning it over to someone else."


A Collaborative Effort

The experience was wholly collaborative. Guacci imparts, "If I didn't listen to what these actors had to say, it would really be shame on me. I was very open to everything they had to say. I listened to them every step of the way and that's why it works as well as it does. Some times you tend overwrite and overstate and it's beautiful when actresses come in and can pull it back."

After completion of principle photography, there was a bit of snag. "I had no money to edit," Guacci confesses. "I had to raise money it. So we had the film shot and I was at a stand still. It took another few months to get the money."

"Stuff" continues the refreshing trend of LGBT filmmakers pushing boundaries and presenting stories that are fresh and concern the lives of LGBT people beyond the typical "coming out/first love" sagas. Guacci: "For these ladies their sexuality was dealt with 20 years ago. It's not up for debate."

Guacci is currently working towards raising money for an earlier script that was a semi-finalist at the Slamdance Screenplay Competition, work titled "Puddles and Pools." "It's very different from 'Stuff,' " she elaborates. "It's very cinematic, very rich in atmosphere. A fabulous character-driven script about a bunch of lost souls who come together and create this family."

Right now Suzanne Guacci is deservedly basking in the positive reactions her film is receiving along the Festival route. "It's been 2-3 years of giving it everything and to finally be here is a relief. It's beautiful that people are liking it and understanding it...It took me a long time to get here but I am very happy to be here."


For more information about Stuff, visit the film's Facebook page.


Watch the trailer to Stuff:


Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for Edge. His film column can be read at newyorkcool.com. Frank is also a proud Dramatists Guild member having written a slew of plays including "Consent," which confronts bullying and homophobia and was a 2012 semifinalist for the 2012 O'Neill National Playwrights Conference, "Vatican Falls," a play set against the backdrop of the Catholic sex abuse scandal which received Special Mention at the 2013 O'Neill (and will be produced next season) and his latest, "Orville Station." Ten of his plays have been produced (seven in NYC). Frank is the recipient of a 2015 Fellowship Award from the NJ State Council on the Arts for his play, CONSENT.


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