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In a world where bachelorettes are saying yes to the dress so they can become the real housewives of wherever, Andrea Dorfman’s new feature Spinster illustrates how there are other paths to self-fulfillment that aren’t labeled “bridal.”
Filmed in Halifax in the summer of 2018 and now available on iTunes and video-on-demand, the film dubbed an “anti-rom-com” stars American comedian and actor Chelsea Peretti from Brooklyn Nine-Nine as Gaby, a wedding caterer and hopeful restauranteur who stands up to the propaganda of happily ever after, after she’s dumped by her boyfriend on her 39th birthday.
In the story created by screenwriter Jennifer Deyell and Dorfman, Gaby realizes the only expectations she has to fulfill are her own, and that putting herself and her business dreams ahead of any sort of pre-conceived romantic fantasy or maternal instinct shouldn’t leave her singled out for staying single.
“We lifted from experiences I went through in my 30s, and experiences people Jennifer and I knew went through, who were specifically single,” says Dorfman during a break from working on a new project, her third collaboration with poet/singer Tanya Davis. “The questions that we got asked and the discomfort that we were put through, all in the interest of this ideal that frankly isn’t even for everybody, whether you want it or not.
“One of the things that was really important, and certainly Chelsea’s casting goes with this, is that we didn’t want this person to be ultra-extraordinary. She’s supposed to be ordinary, and tangible and relatable, because I think this is something that most women go through, amazingly even today.”
Before starting work on Spinster, Dorfman was a fan of Peretti’s stand-up comedy work which is bold and personal in a way that she found smart and refreshing. In her first leading role in a feature film, the California-raised actor combines a sense of world-weary wisdom and clear-eyed optimism that makes us root for Gaby as she spends her 39th year turning her life around.
“I thought she had such a great angle on life in general, and just seemed really cool. I thought she came off in front of an audience as a really authentic performer,” says the director, who excels at creating characters who are approachable and down-to-earth in her features Parsley Days and Heartbeat.
“She was at the top of my list right away, and I just thought she had a look ... I didn’t want this polished, perfect person. I wanted somebody who felt like me or you, and so many Hollywood stars just feel unreachable, in a way.”
When Peretti received the script via a Los Angeles casting director, she loved the female-driven vibe of the project as well as its story of a woman who follows her own instincts to resist societal conventions about conducting her personal life. Plus, in her early discussions with Dorfman, Peretti was assured she would have the flexibility to adapt dialogue to suit her take on the character or her own delivery, which only served to make Gaby even more believable.
“She was a great collaborator, going into it,” says Dorfman. “It was a low-budget film, we had no rehearsal time before a 17-day shoot, and it was completely different for her. She’s in every scene of this film, and carrying a feature film where you have to be on for every moment you’re on set ... I know for a fact it was a huge challenge for her.”
Dorfman recounts how Peretti came across the continent to find herself in an unfamiliar city with her 10-month-old son (with her husband, filmmaker and comic actor Jordan Peele). She worked long days on a film set surrounded by strangers, and still found some free time to enjoy her time in the city and the neighbourhoods in which they filmed.
“I really have tons of admiration for her for having taken this on, and I don’t even really understand why she did it. I really don’t!” says Dorfman.
“It would have been so easy to just say no. It was the only break she had between Brooklyn Nine-Nine wrapping and starting up again, in that length of time she worked on this.”
Apart from having an American star, Spinster is recognizably a Nova Scotian film, from a cast of familiar faces — like Bill Carr as Gaby’s dad and 22 Minutes’ Susan Kent as her understanding best friend Amanda — to its soundtrack of local artists like songwriters Erin Costelo and Jenn Grant and a score by Dan Ledwell.
After it received warm welcomes at film festivals like Whistler, Dorfman had hoped Spinster would receive its theatrical release in April, but in the age of COVID-19 she’s happy that viewers can now enjoy it at home, and it can reach a wide audience through its various platforms.
“It’s the world we’re living in right now; I don’t feel disappointment, I’m just rolling with it,” says Dorfman, whose only regret is that there won’t be a local celebration of its release for cast and crew.
“For me, making a film is always a community experience, and I consider every member of the crew a filmmaker. I want them to be appreciated and celebrate their contribution to the work. I’m sad that that won’t happen.”