Whether your mom is your BFF or your sister is your biggest enemy, relationships between family members can sometimes be rough. It’s pretty rare to find anyone outside of our families as adept at getting under our skin. And while it can be tempting to chuck your cell phone at the wall during a heated argument with a close relative, most of the day-to-day petty tiffs we have with our loved ones are quickly resolved and forgotten.
But what happens when a single fight turns into a prolonged separation? Can you repair a relationship that’s been neglected for years and forgive a loved one you’ve entirely written off?
Those are the questions director Nancy Savoca explores in the film Union Square, and if you’ve ever had so much as a family spat, you owe it to yourself to see the severe consequences of severing family ties.
Mira Sorvino and Tammy Blanchard star as Lucy and Jenny, two estranged sisters who reunite after surviving a tumultuous upbringing and subsequent falling out. After an upsetting phone call sends Lucy spiraling into a complete meltdown, she finds herself on Jenny’s doorstep in the heart of New York City’s Union Square.
From there, the film authentically explores their complicated relationship and makes some pretty profound points about the intense connections we have with our families, whether we want to or not.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Savoca (director of one of my absolute, hands-down, all-time favorite films, Dogfight), and Blanchard (a ridiculously talented stage and screen actress), and both were kind enough to share their thoughts on love, loss, and the power of female bonds.
HelloGiggles: What compelled you to tell this particular story?
Savoca: It’s funny, the whole thing started with, ‘Let’s make a small, contained movie where we don’t have to run around and spend tons of money and get permission, and just see if we can make it.’ And the producer offered her apartment and that’s the apartment that you see [in the film]. And we thought, ‘Oh god, it’s a small, one-room apartment. What happens in this apartment that keeps people interested?
That scene with Mira’s meltdown—I had written that scene based on something I’d seen, something I’d witnessed: A woman break up with her boyfriend on the phone. And it intrigued me how life is so public now and how with cell phones, these personal things are so portable and we forget we’re out on the street. So that intrigued me. Once she had the meltdown we definitely had to have her end up in the apartment. The question was who’s is it? And then we started talking about, ‘Imagine having someone show up at your place.’ Well, what if it is someone you love but wish wouldn’t do this to you? And what if it’s the closest person in the world to you? And that would be a mom or a sister.
Blanchard: I happened to be experiencing separation in my own family at the time I read the script. My grandmother was very sick and my mother has 13 brothers and sisters. So you can imagine 14 kids fighting over who can take care of grandma the best through that separation and resentment. And as I read the script, I connected to it and wanted to tell the story in hopes that families would see that no matter how hard it is to be around each other, there’s nothing worse than losing each other for such a long time. And when tragedy strikes, regret will fill your days if you’re not there and available to your loved ones. Nancy Savoca told me that people have been coming up to her after screenings and telling her they’re going to make a phone call to family members they haven’t spoken to. And a lot of times in my life, if I’m going through something and connect completely to a role and to a story, I just have to tell it.
HG: The film looks at a really complicated, emotional relationship between sisters. What do you think keeps Lucy and Jenny so tightly bonded despite their resentment and anger toward each other?
S: I think what keeps them bonded is that they can look at each other without talking—and that happens often in the film—and understand what the other is feeling. One moment where there’s this beautiful psychic connection is the first night Lucy arrives and Jenny wakes up with a gasp and says, ‘I had the worst dream,’ and at that moment, Lucy already knows what Jenny dreamed. That connection sort of paraphrases a story [co-writer] Mary Tobler and her sister had. Her sister was pregnant and she was sleeping over there. One night, Mary woke up and heard her sister saying in ear, ‘I have to go the hospital.’ Mary jumped out of bed and into the room where her sister was and her sister was too far to have said something like that. And she looked at her and said, ‘I’m having contractions.’ Crazy stuff like that happens and it really happens when people are really connected. In spite of the fact that by the end of the film we see these sisters have had a difficult time with each other, they have a common bond that is hard to recreate.
B: Every individual has a history and our histories are based on people who knew us as children. I have two brothers that can’t be replaced. No one will ever know me like my brothers know me or my friends from grammar school or high school. You can’t forget where you came from.
I’m the opposite from Jenny—I’m a loyal, dedicated family member and that’s not always easy. Our family members can be crazy sometimes and we have our share of that. Something I always knew innately was to never forget where I came from. Even as we change and grow in life, we have to hold on to that history and past and never let go because that’s where our love is. Who else can you scream at besides family? You need to allow that into your life as hard as it is. Even if it’s just phone call once a week for five minutes, never lose that.
HG: HelloGiggles is all about fostering a positive, creative environment for women and girls and Union Square was very much a collaboration of strong female writers, directors, and actresses. Do you think Hollywood needs more of these kind of collaborative opportunities for women?
B: Yeah, this was the first time ever I was directed by a woman and I was very nervous at first because I have been directed by men for so long. And being directed by Nancy, who was writing and producing and investing so much of her life into the film, is really amazing. As women, we understand other women and we know we’re sometimes emotional wrecks and we take care of each other. Nancy really directed me on and off the set in every way possible. It’s especially great for young women struggling to be directors or actors to show that with a little money and a lot of passion, you can create something beautiful and wonderful.
HG: Do you think the film makes any important statements about female relationships in general?
S: I think that my favorite thing to do is not to try and make a statement or message with my films but to do exploration. Most of the time when I make a film, I’m interested in learning something new. It’s less about me knowing something and telling you but about me being curious about something or confused about something or embarrassed about something or excruciatingly embarrassed about something that propels me to get into it and dig deep. The subject of women together fascinates me and to have such a close bond—sometimes when we oversimplify things, we can say women are catty or competitive or like to gossip, but women can be incredibly supportive and incredibly empathetic and they will pick up the phone and call in a way that I think men do less.
B: I think that females—we’re the only ones who get our periods and we understand what its like to have emotionally insane moments at times and we need other women. I went a long time without any female best friends, and I just recently found a woman in my life who is now my best friend, and during that certain time of the month, she’s the only one I can call. And as women, you have to find each other and find best friends who will understand those times where you’re emotionally insane and men cannot and will never get it and will never understand. I have a four and a half year old girl, Ava, and going through that process of being pregnant and your body changes and your emotions change—there’s nothing stronger in this world than female bonds you can trust and rely on.
HG: What do you hope moviegoers take away from the film?
S: I think what I would love after this roller coaster ride—which I recognize it is, and I apologize when the lights come on in the theater and I see audiences look like they’ve been through a lot—is the experience of really letting people think they know someone in the beginning and letting them judge someone by how they look and behave. We think we know who people are and then we get to know them and we’re surprised by who they really are.
B: I hope people walk away with an understanding that family is family and that being away from family too long and not keeping in touch with the people you love is a waste of time and not worth it because if anything bad ever happens, all you have is each other. And in the end, the only people who come to your death bed are your brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins—those are the people in the end. Why not spend time with them now?
Union Square hits select theaters July 13. For more information, visit theunionsquaremovie.com.
Image via theunionsquaremovie.com.