Dorfman in Love
Screenwriter Wendy Kout gives us a Jewish female lead in a romantic comedy who we can recognize and support.
At a time when romantic comedies seem to be getting increasingly bland and lame, Dorfman in Love is a breath of fresh air. In this feature film, written by Wendy Kout, we meet Deb Dorfman (played by Sara Rue), a slightly nerdy single woman, still living at home in the ’burbs. Deb lives a sheltered life caring for her widowed father (played by Elliot Gould) and working as an accountant for her brother. But when Deb agrees to apartment-sit for her enormous crush (a self-absorbed jerk), she starts to spread her wings, relish independence, and find romance with a hot neighbor who shows her that real men support their women.
Watch the trailer: www.dorfmaninlove.com
If you took out all the Jewish references in the film, you would still have a solid storyline. Why was it important to you that the film have a Jewish family at its center?
Growing up, I experienced very few relatable contemporary Jewish characters on the big or little screen or stage. As I began to find my own voice as a storyteller, I wanted to create the characters I had been missing. So, when I was inspired to write Dorfman in Love, Deb and her family came to me as Jewish. But I didn’t write a Jewish movie. I wrote a universal movie about a family who happens to be Jewish. This contributes to the specificity of the characters and places them in a particular world. But Deb and her family’s dynamics and dysfunctions are relatable in any world. Our film has toured festivals around the country and the globe. Red state or blue state, Jewish festival or non-Jewish festival, the audiences resonate with the characters and themes. You don’t have to be Jewish to be moved or entertained by Dorfman in Love… but if you know a little Yiddish it couldn’t hurt!
Typically, when we see a Jewish character in a mainstream film or TV show, there are only one or two mentions of the character’s Jewish identity. In Dorfman in Love, the film is full of Jewish references throughout the entire film. Was that a conscious decision on your part? Why or why not?
The conscious decision was to trust and respect the voices of my characters. They spoke to me and through me and I wrote what I heard them saying. Fortunately, our wonderful producer, Len Hill, who is also Jewish, loved and protected the Jewish references and vision of the film. Had I sold this script to a studio, the first thing that would have changed is that the characters would no longer be Jewish. The second is that I would have been replaced by a slew of writers. Dorfman in Love is a pure indie film—made from passion and expressing a singular vision.
Were there any points in writing the film that you worried the Jewish jokes might be too insider for your non-Jewish audience?
How about too inside for our director? Our gifted 24-year-old Asian American director, Brad Leong’s first question to me after reading the script was “What’s a flag-ella?” I explained what a “fagella” is and what other Yiddish words meant. Len, Brad and I knew that not all audiences would understand the Yiddish, but we never worried about it. Missing a laugh or two isn’t important. The audience understanding the themes and arcs of the characters is what is important.
Ultimately, Deb is left to choose between two different men, neither one Jewish. As you screen the film at Jewish film festivals, have you gotten any backlash about this? Any thoughts you want to share?
I wouldn’t say backlash. To me that connotes a group reaction. There have been a few individuals who questioned why I didn’t create a Jewish male for Deb. The answer is that the film is not a polemic and it is not about Deb learning to appreciate her Jewish identity. Crossing Delancey has already been well written, acted, and produced. I’m telling a different tale. It’s about Deb needing to break free from the oppressive perceptions of her family and the confines of her small life. She needs to experience the outer world and celebrate individuality and diversity… so that she can begin to be authentic about what makes her diverse and an individual. Deb is torn between two very different men, but first she needs to discover and love herself before being able to make the right choice.
Clearly, transformation and journeys are huge themes in the movie—Deb moves to a new part of LA, there are several transportation shots, a major beauty makeover. The big transformation, of course, is that Deb starts out as sheltered and learns to stand on her own two feet. Do you think Jewish kids are more sheltered than non-Jewish kids? Thoughts on this?
I’m not an expert in those matters. Do I observe sheltered Jewish kids? Sure. But I also observe sheltered gentile kids. The instinct to protect one’s children from harm is universal. What a delicate balance to ensure your child’s safety but to also let them fall, fail, and feel hurt and confused, so they can grow. Writing is tough. Parenting is tougher. When I screw up a story, it doesn’t send anyone to therapy… except maybe me!
Was it challenging to find the line between showcasing “Jewish” commonalities and traits without getting into stereotypes? (How did you approach?)
My characters came to me as fully-formed, contradictory beings. If you can express contradiction in character that helps avoid one-dimensional stereotyping.
You’ve written many screenplays, but this was the first one that was green-lit. What, beyond passion, gave you the determination and confidence to keep going?
The simple answer is if I don’t write I feel crazy. So despite acceptance or rejection of my work, I have to write. But I didn’t keep writing screenplays. After decades of trying to get a movie made, I turned to the theatre, where writers are highly respected. Then I ran into an old friend, Len Hill, in downtown Los Angeles. He had produced my first television pilot and had gone on to produce over 50 movies for television. Len excitedly explained he was no longer producing and was now a real estate developer committed to revitalizing our city’s urban core. After a tour of the block he and his partners had transformed in the Arts District, we stood on the rooftop of one of his repurposed live/work loft buildings with an extraordinary view of the d-town skyline. Moved by the juxtaposition of our revitalized city and my revitalized friend, I told Len that the capacity to re-imagine and repurpose not just a city, but also ourselves, would make a rich arena for a film. Len immediately replied, “You write it and I’ll produce it!” And that is what we did. The film is not autobiographical. I was a seen and encouraged child. But in creating Deb, I did draw from my own experience of feeling unseen and unappreciated as a screenwriter. My goal had once been to get a movie made. This time I wanted to write an entertainment that would encourage those who felt stuck or diminished to re-imagine and repurpose their lives. Dorfman in Love was worth the long wait.
For more information about the film and where you can see it, visit www.dorfmaninlove.com.
About the Author
Wendy Kout wrote and developed film projects for Laura Ziskin, Barbra Streisand, John Hughes, Universal, Columbia, Tristar, and Disney. In television, Wendy created and was the executive producer on the hit ABC show Anything But Love, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis. She also wrote for or developed projects for Paul Reiser, Jane Fonda, Robin Williams, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Lifetime Television. In theater, Wendy’s first play, Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Helen Gahagan Douglas, co-written with Michele Willens, was a 2006 O’Neill Conference Finalist and was nominated for the Weissberger Award. Her second play, Naked in Encino—which premiered in November 2012 in Denver with And Toto too Theatre Company—won four Marlowe Awards, including Best Production, Comedy and Best New Play, Comedy.
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