A young woman on the rattling cusp of 30 takes a weekend to visit her mom’s bed and breakfast in the country. Who does she bring with her? Why, her ex-boyfriend and his girlfriend, of course. This premise is both the setup and punchline to the darkly funny feature The Weekend, the latest film from Canadian writer-director Stella Meghie, which gets its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next week.
The film's heroine (played by Sasheer Zamata, formerly of Saturday Night Live) self-identifies as a supporting character in her own life, and “extremely single.” With a crackling dry wit and polished high jinks, The Weekend further cements Meghie as Canadian cinema’s of-the-moment darling.
If you don’t know her name yet, let’s get you sorted. Having ditched a career in PR in New York for screenwriting in London, the Toronto-born, L.A.-based Meghie pirouetted onto the scene with her first film Jean of the Joneses (which showed at TIFF in 2016) – a zingy comedy of errors that correctly underscored the funeral ritual as life’s final absurd gesture. Then, weeks after signing with the talent agency Creative Artists Agency, the filmmaker hit it big with a studio picture deal: a $10-million (U.S.) adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s YA novel Everything, Everything starring Amandla Stenberg (Rue of The Hunger Games). Not exactly the budget or cast Meghie had expected for her second movie.
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The success of Everything, Everything was freighted with meaning for Meghie – and for an industry scrambling to account for its decidedly white rolling credits. “It’s one of those things where it’s not just about the movie,” she says in a phone interview a few days before TIFF. “It’s about other things, too.” Other things, such as the fact that Meghie was the only black female director to helm a studio picture with a wide release in 2017 (take a second to let that sink in).
The film grossed an impressive US$61.6-million worldwide. “There are always stakes with these things," Meghie says of the film’s ROI, "and you’re just happy you can make good on it.”
“It’s definitely been a short turn around from the day I got financed for Jean of the Joneses. It’s been a bit non-stop, but I mean, in this climate, if I stop for a heartbeat I’ll get scooped into a bad statistic,” she adds with a laugh. A bad statistic she is not: In between film projects, Meghie has been busy directing television, with an episode of Grown-ish and another of HBO’s Insecure.
The box-office success of Everything, Everything meant that Meghie could have easily kept building momentum in the Hollywood studio system. Instead, the director chose to return to independent film with The Weekend – a tightly paced character study that opens up like a perfectly peeled orange. Sweet and intricate.
“You can choose what you do. Whether you play in the studio system or go back to indies. There are some films that are in my heart that might not fit the studio model, but that doesn’t mean I still can’t go ahead and make them,” explains the director, who cast the film “out of my phone and at parties” she says. From DM’ing DeWanda Wise (of Netflix’s She's Gotta Have It), to being introduced to Y’lan Noel (known for his drama-stirring role as Daniel in Insecure) through a group-text as he was still shooting The First Purge, the cast of The Weekend came together in true millennial fashion.
Zamata's Zadie is a snarky and self-deprecating comedian with a heart of gold bursting with unrequited love. Zadie fumbles through the drama with her ex Bradford (a delightful Tone Bell) with open disdain for her replacement, Margo (played by Wise). Then, along comes a sinfully handsome stranger from Montreal (Noel as Aubrey) who begins to unravel the tangled corners of their love triangle.
The Weekend was filmed on location in Malibu, though it became a dupe for the East Coast after an unexpected freeze that left Meghie with the realization she was now doing a movie set in the fall. Meghie shot over a mere 13 days with the same director of photography she’d used for Jean of the Joneses, Kris Belchevski, and collaborated once again with Robi Botos on music. Of The Weekend’s classic sound, Meghie says: “I wanted it to feel like old, New Orleans, bouncing jazz. To keep the mood light.” So she and Botos created a “Panafrican vibe with a sprinkle of Daniel Caesar.”
As infuriating as Zadie can be with her guarded humour and hilarious pettiness, she’s lovable, too. Meghie knew she was going have to “pull every last bit” of her endearing qualities out or run the risk of a flat, unlikable lead. Zadie is afforded a complexity and moral murkiness that black women on screen have not been granted by other directors.
“There’s just not a lot of black women on camera yet who are young and have different personalities, and thoughts, and dilemmas,” Meghie says. “When I’m editing I’m always thinking ‘I’ve never seen this person. I had that thought with Jean, and I had it here [with The Weekend].”
Jean and Zadie “come in some way from me,” the director says. “I’m not going to own up to all the stories in the script, but I definitely had to pull from my own life,” she admits. Meghie's own mom, like Zadie’s, runs a B&B.
Meghie says she was a “bit emotional” when TIFF’s artistic director Cameron Bailey told her he’d love to present The Weekend at this year’s festival. “I was just so happy to be returning with something that I wrote and that I was so proud of."
Watching The Weekend – quirky in its dialogue, French New Wave in its look – it’s hard not to see that all we must do is get out of this woman’s way.
Give Stella Meghie the runway to do her thing, to follow her eye and to cast her films through any device she pleases, and she will make us proud.
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The Weekend screens at TIFF Sept. 11, 6:00 p.m., Ryerson; Sept. 13, 9 p.m., Ryerson; Sept. 14, 4 p.m., Lightbox.
Special to The Globe and Mail