Claire Scanlon talks The People We Hate at the Wedding

Kristen Bell, Ben Platt and Allison Janney star in The People We Hate at the Wedding. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Filmmaker Claire Scanlon spoke with Solzy at the Movies about the upcoming Amazon comedy, The People We Hate at the Wedding.

The dysfunctional family comedy is based on a novel by Grant Ginder. Scanlon directs from a script written by sisters Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin and Wendy Molyneux. The comedy features a cast that includes Allison Janney, Kristen Bell, Ben Platt, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Dustin Milligan, Isaach De Bankolé, Karan Soni, Tony Goldwyn, Jorma Taccone, Julian Ovenden, and John McMillan.

The film will launch on Prime Video on November 18. Please be warned that light spoilers follow in our conversation.

How did you respond when you first read the script for The People We Hate at the Wedding?

Claire Scanlon: I was laughing throughout—especially the reveal of the rehearsal dinner that caught me off guard. I did not see that coming. It was great.

For someone that hasn’t really traveled during the pandemic, I loved getting an opportunity to virtually travel to London and the countryside.

Claire Scanlon: I loved getting to literally travel to London. I think so many of us were coming off the pandemic. It led to a kind of camaraderie in the cast and crew—well, the crew lived in London but for the Americans who came to London, it was really a joy. I mean, especially for my desert-scorched earth eyes coming from Los Angeles and going right into the heart of Hyde Park and all the gorgeous foliage, flowers, trees, greenery, I just realized how starved I was for beautiful nature. London is the quintessential gorgeous parks, incredible hydrangeas, like the sides of my head. It was just incredible.

Was there any particular location that you would have loved to film that all day?

Claire Scanlon: Well, we did. It was in Newbury where we shot the wedding. It was stunning, that estate was great. The homeowners were lovely. I mean, it was really ideal. Like I was saying, when we were location scouting and looking for that perfect venue, there were all these little sheep that came up and they went right up to us and went BAH right up to us. I was like, Okay, that’s a sign—even the animals want us here. It was great. I’m like you. I’m just starved to get out of my house and to go have that be my playground and getting paid to boot was just delightful.

When I watched the film last month, I didn’t even want it to end because I was just having so much fun hanging out with this family.

Claire Scanlon: They’re fun. They’re great. They really felt like a family. It really felt like they—I do think the pandemic played into that as well. We all were starved to go somewhere and then we all went together, and it just felt like a family outing. Everyone really bonded that way.

What was it like to direct the cast, which featured a reunion with Kristen Bell since you also directed an episode of The Good Place?

Claire Scanlon: That’s how I knew her. Well, actually, our kids went to preschool. They were in the same preschool class—her youngest and my oldest went to preschool together. I kind of knew her from that and then I directed her on The Good Place. When our initial person that we had cast as Alice had fallen out, they’re like, what about Kristin Bell? Amazon was like, who do we get? I was like, well, let me just reach out to her.

I was like, “Hey, I know it’s the weekend but can I shoot you a script? This is really funny.” I knew she was game when the very next morning—I sent it to on a Friday night, Saturday morning, I wake up to an email that says how fast can you shoot me out? I was like, I think we’ve got something here. It was great. She’s wonderful. Her character of Alice is doing some pretty unlikable things especially in the beginning of the movie—actually, let’s be honest, for most of the movie. She’s doing some pretty despicable things.

What’s great about Kristen Bell is that she’s just got this likeability you just want to root for her even when she’s doing naughty, naughty, naughty things. You’re like, Come on, don’t. I’d sometimes find myself talking back to the screen when I when she’s behaving badly like, don’t do it, Alice! Every time I see that scene where Dennis tells her off—I’ve literally seen it 1000 times, I’m not even joking—every time that scene comes up, I’m like, Oh, I can’t watch when she does that awful thing and lies. I can’t watch. It just hurts. I’m always so happy when there are consequences to her naughty actions and she finally faces what she’s done wrong and apologizes. I love that Taco Bell scene for that reason.

That’s just a heartfelt scene.

Claire Scanlon: Yeah, it really is. It’s a great scene and it’s what people need to do. That’s the scene that leads to intimacy. It leads to closeness. If you make a huge mistake, talk about it, own up to it, face the consequences of your actions. Of course, we wouldn’t have a movie if Alice did that. (Laughs) But when she does do it and we’ve seen her just constantly abscond her duties as a sister, it’d be so terrible that when she finally does the right thing, it feels so good and it leads to great things.

With coming up as an editor, how has that informed your directing style?

Claire Scanlon: I think especially coming up as a comedy editor has really helped because I’m drawn to comedies. There’s some pretty heavy stuff in this movie but I think it doesn’t hit you over the head. If there is a message, it’s keep open lines of communication and things will be good. It’s when you don’t that all this trying not to do the right thing leads to chaos and very funny situations. Again, we wouldn’t have a movie without it but I do think that my editing background really helps me on set. I can really see if we don’t have the coverage, if we don’t have the shots that we need to go from one section to another section. If the performances aren’t quite there, there’s a term “comedy blow” for a scene—lots of times, we like to have this nice button to end up a scene. If we don’t have that, I’m like hey, let’s kind of brainstorm blue sky and think of a great way to end this. And mostly, it’s about performances, nope, we got it; we don’t need that because I see we got it, let’s move on to something else. Let’s try to find another happy accident. Let’s do a fun run. Let’s just have people play. Look, whave these comedy giants, let’s use them.

How much room was there for improv?

Claire Scanlon: Always. I always did a fun run. Always room for improv especially when you have Karan Soni on set. Karan Soni is hilarious. He plays Dominic in this movie—he plays Paul’s (Ben Platt) boyfriend. When in doubt, go to Karan. Rufus Jones, who plays Tom, is delightful, very funny. He’s someone that’s fun to play with. Frankly, Kristen, Ben, and Allison are great. I mean, them in this rundown rental car, that was a great day. You can (inaudible) puke a lot. There’s actually weirdly a lot of throwing up in this movie. I didn’t quite realize it and going into it, I’m like, there’s a lot of throw up. When Alice throws up, I was joking with the director of photography, it’s the most beautifully back lit throw up I’ve ever seen. You could see the exact color that the puke is.

I just lost my train of thought.

Claire Scanlon: In general, just shooting this film with some of the fun cameos that we have that aren’t necessarily highlighted. That should give you an idea also of how much we were willing to play. I’ll just out one of them. It’s Randall Park and he’s in the beginning. He’s like, I’ll just be an Easter egg and be sitting in the background because we’re friends. I was like, oh, no, no, no, no, you’re here, you’re getting lines. That all just came up that day on set then. Ben was integral to the joke about the musical because he knows all the musicals. That was Ben Platt’s copyrighted joke. Let’s give him credit where credit is due—the joke about Cats.

What do you hope people take away from the film?

Claire Scanlon: I hope that let families watch this film—I mean, older families because I don’t think kids should necessarily watch this. Maybe 10 and up? I think it might have an R rating so maybe even older. But that said, I would love for people to take away that yeah, the last couple years have been freaking hard but get your family together, hash it out, talk it out, do more things together. I love the epilogue of this film because it really shows it’s a nice throw forward to see that the problems that were dealt with, the communication was had, old wounds were dealt with and healed. As a result, new life has come in to the film and that’s a great starting point. I’m excited to know what this—I mean, there’s no sequel but I’m excited to know that this family will thrive and continually get together year after year. I think that’s really important.

Prime Video will release The People We Hate at the Wedding on November 18, 2022.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.