Jenna Laurenzo is a writer, actress, producer, and director known for her short films Coffee to Go and Girl Night Stand. Her first feature Lez Bomb is a heartwarming and hilarious tale of a young woman who attempts to come out to her family on Thanksgiving. FANVERSATION’s Taylor Gates was lucky enough to speak to Laurenzo and ask her what inspired her to write the script, why she finds comedic LGBTQ+ film so important, how she got Elaine Hendrix and Cloris Leachman on board, and much more!
What percentage of this movie was autobiographical for you?
It depends on who’s asking. If it’s my family, I’m like, “None of it.” [Laughs] No, a lot of it was very much based on my real experiences and my family. Just that whole emotional rollercoaster of coming out–I really wanted to cram that in a 48-hour period with the backdrop of this all-American holiday and play with the collision of all that. We shot the film at my childhood home and the motel is actually my mother’s, so the characters are very much inspired by my family. Yes, it does hit close to home.
Meet the Parents is my favorite comedy of all time, and I got a lot of those vibes throughout this movie. What movies did you take inspiration from?
Absolutely Meet the Parents, Home for the Holidays, The Family Stone, and Little Miss Sunshine. I miss those family films that they don’t really make anymore. There’s something nostalgic about it. I’m hoping by leaning into that nostalgia of telling a relatable comedy with a modern twist it’s more accessible to people who might not necessarily gravitate towards the storyline. I also really love the idea of coming home for the holidays and after the meal watching movies together. I wanted to make one of those films that felt like you could do that with your family and not run into any gratuitous sex scenes. There’s a place and a time, but I don’t necessarily want to be sitting next to grandma doing it.
I felt like all of the characters, even in the supporting roles, were cast so perfectly. What was your casting process like?
We had incredible casting directors Meghan Rafferty and Mia Cusumano, and Mia especially was the engine behind it and my support system and my rock this entire journey. She was the one that kept being like, “We’re going to get this film made.” She’s the one that actually got the script into the producers’ hands. We had endless conversations about the family feeling familiar and feeling like a family that you know and trying to make sure that when it was cast it felt like that. Having the family dynamics and chemistry–a lot of that happened organically on set, but it was their incredible mindfulness of getting a cast that would feel like your family. I never imagined that Elaine Hendrix or Kevin Pollak or Cloris Leachman would say yes, but they gravitated to the script. When all of them were attached, I was like, “What is happening?!”
Are there any particularly funny behind-the-scenes moments or things that happened that stand out to you?
I feel like I have a ton of Cloris stories. She’s just such a gem. When she throws the turkey, it was like zero degrees outside. It was so cold, and I went over to Cloris and I was like, “Are you ready to throw the turkey?” And her teeth were chattering and she was like, “I’m trembling with excitement.” [Laughs] Bruce Dern would always pull me aside and give me life lessons. He would always bestow wisdom upon me. The way he delivers it is scary, but what he says are like the nicest things ever.
I know every character is sort of your baby, but are there any characters you would say you had the most fun writing for?
The mother role.
She was great. And I love how the third act is a lot of just Lauren and her mom. Why did you want to explore that mother/daughter relationship in particular?
I think that those scenes ground the comedy. I felt like having a whole movie with that tone, it wouldn’t have worked. To have those messages really hit home and sink in, you have to hook people in with laughter, and then they’re there, and then they’re more receptive to it. My mom asks a lot of questions, and I was thinking, “My mom can’t be the only one asking these questions.” A lot of times parents are afraid to be so blunt, especially with stuff like this. It’s like, “How open can we be? How quickly can we get through this sort of dialogue?” I thought it would be fun to have this sort of dialogue since there are probably a lot of moms out there with the same questions.
Why was it important to you to explore this through a comedy lens?
I grew up loving comedies. When I was coming out, I watched every LGBTQ+ thing I could get my hands on. So often they were dramatic and didn’t end well. It didn’t make me feel like a happy ending was in my near future. I wanted there to be a happy ending, and I want people to believe in a happy ending. I’m an eternal optimist, and I think there is an importance to telling these stories so that there is light at the end of the tunnel or else it gets really heavy. I want to inspire a hopefulness and cheerfulness. It was important for people to leave the theatre on a happy note. I also really wanted a holiday comedy in this space.
Did you ever consider setting this at Christmas or something, or did you always want it to be Thanksgiving?
You’re the first person who’s asked that, so thank you! There’s something about Thanksgiving for me that’s higher stakes because it’s the first family gathering that kicks off the holiday season. You’ve had all this time where you haven’t seen your family and you’re coming home now for the first time in a while. For me, the stakes seemed higher.
I love that the grandparents find out first. Can you talk about that decision?
I feel like a lot of times with this subject-matter, there are a lot of external pressures that make people reluctant to come out. For the protagonist in this case, the acceptance she’s fighting for is her own and you kind of find that out along the way. Because the expectation is that the grandparents would be the least likely to approve and the least likely to know what’s going on, I wanted to go to the opposite end. It sort of sets it up for where it’s going but doesn’t give it away.
You wore a ton of hats during this project. You wrote it, produced it, directed it, and starred in it. Do you have a favorite role?
It really depends on the project. Writing comes most natural because I’ve been doing it my whole entire life. I like the flexibility and freedom that writing allows. I do love acting, but I think in the future I’m really interested in acting in other people’s projects. I had the opportunity to act in Peter Farrelly’s Green Book which also comes out in November. There’s something so inspiring about reading other people’s words and learning from the way in which they execute things. That was so rewarding in itself. With my own scripts, I think I’ll be interested in directing them. It just depends on the project and the story and how I would potentially want to explore it. All of those roles sort of allow you to tap into a different part of the creative process, but I think they inform one another and create growth.
This is the first feature you ever directed, and directing is such a huge beast to take on. What did you learn from that process?
We had a very tight shooting schedule and so learning to be confident in the vision I had of the project and not veering away from that and fighting for certain things was huge. Bobby Farrelly who was one of my executive producers made There’s Something About Mary, and one of the most valuable things he taught me was to have courage to lean into the jokes and not be afraid of making everyone happy. That’s one of the best takeaways that helped me while rewriting this other script that I’m trying to get made. I feel like you learn something on every project. I had such great collaboration on this team it was hard not to learn from everyone.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
There are moments in the script I felt uncomfortable with and was worried about what other people were going to think, but they were the ones that struck a nerve in me. The most interesting part was that those were the things that attracted the cast. I think sometimes it’s hard to lean into those moments that make us the most uncomfortable, but it’s pointing to something really important.
What is next for you? What can we look forward to?
I’m developing a TV series and another movie, which I’m really excited about. I think that there will be more comedies coming from me in the future. Hopefully. Fingers crossed!
Lez Bomb will be in theaters and available on demand Friday, November 9th 2018
— Taylor Gates