"I was really fascinated with the archetype of the lover... the myth of Eros, who is all-loving. He's strong, he's there, he's emotional, and he's alive." The charming Glaswegian brogue on the other end of the phone pauses here, and then she turns nostalgic: "I'm afraid that kind of archetypal lover is no longer associated with film. It's rare to see a male character who's actually loving."
The voice and endearingly heartfelt sentiment belong to Marianna Palka, writer/director/producer/star of this season's Good Dick, a massive Sundance hit now playing in a limited self-distributed run. Shot for a pittance with friends for cast and crew, Palka's film is a battle-scarred comedy about the pained romance of pair of social misfits -â he's a homeless video clerk, she's a misanthropic porn addict. The he in this case is played by Palka's longtime boyfriend and the film's co-producer, Jason Ritter (also seen this month as Jeb Bush in W), and though I interviewed the two separately, their answers to my questions were so adorably in-tune that it's clear Ritter's at least part of the inspiration for the nameless archetypal lover at the film's core. Hence:
Ritter: "Not to be cynical at all, but we were just excited to show the film to our friends... that's who we thought the audience would be."
Palka: "I made the film just to have on my shelf â- to show my mentors, to show my peers."
If Ritter and Palka's gee-shucks attitude seems a bit disingenuous in light of the film's festival success, their enthusiasm for the film is entirely real. Good Dick (and yeah, the title means what you think) is without a doubt a labor of love for Palka, written in frustration after coming to terms with the dearth of three-dimensional roles for young actors in Hollywood. "The characters really came out of a desire to write a film about real people with real problems," Palka says. In writing the piece, originally intended as a short, she drew extensively on the character workshopping she and Ritter undertook when studying together at the famed Atlantic Theater Company's conservatory.
"She actually came up to me, and said, 'Here's a script I've been working on. I wrote these two parts for us. Enjoy.'" Ritter admits he was nervous. Having read scenes Palka wrote in classes, he recognized she had a talent for strongly confrontational two-person scenes but was unsure of what to make of the script he was handed, a shambolic, unformatted 60-page Word document. "Once I saw past that, I was pleasantly surprised by this bizarre story about these two characters that were unlike any characters I had ever met."
Like this year's other big Sundance hit, Lance Hammer's Mississippi Delta drama Ballast, Good Dick is being self-distributed by its filmmakers.
Palka is frank on the subject: "The indie distributors were like, 'We'll give you $40,000, and we'll dump it in a cinema, and we'll take away the rights for 25 years.' They made it kind of an easy choice."
It's a spirited gambit, and one entirely in keeping with film's rough-hewn DIY aesthetic and the filmmakers' winsome earnestness.