Best friends forever

Naomi Foner and Maggie Gyllenhaal on the growing pains of Very Good Girls.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Very Good Girls director Naomi Foner with her daughter Maggie Gyllenhaal at the Tribeca Grand Hotel: "My mother has a real passion for the truth."
Very Good Girls director Naomi Foner with her daughter Maggie Gyllenhaal at the Tribeca Grand Hotel: "My mother has a real passion for the truth." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Naomi Foner's Tribeca Film Very Good Girls stars Elizabeth Olsen and Dakota Fanning with Boyd Holbrook, Ellen Barkin, Richard Dreyfuss, Clark Gregg, Demi Moore and Peter Sarsgaard. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard, Mamie Gummer and Cary Joji Fukunaga hosted the evening with producer Norton Herrick, designer Nanette Lepore and her daughter Violet, Tali Lennox (daughter of Annie Lennox and film producer Uri Fruchtmann), Stephanie LaCava, Kick Kennedy and Hailey Gates among those attending.

Before the screening, Foner spoke to us about Katharine Hepburn, François Truffaut's Jules Et Jim and the lack of female role models.

Maggie Gyllenhaal on Peter Sarsgaard in Very Good Girls: "You have to use your imagination what it might be like to be directed by your mother-in-law."
Maggie Gyllenhaal on Peter Sarsgaard in Very Good Girls: "You have to use your imagination what it might be like to be directed by your mother-in-law." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Peggy Siegal introduced the Tribeca Grand Hotel screening and her friend Naomi Foner, who, she noted, is the super mom of Jake Gyllenhaal and his sister Maggie.

Peggy Siegal: The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was shown at the Deauville Film Festival. Naomi was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her screenplay for Running On Empty. She is my great friend - I call her super mom, because she has two fantastically talented children who you all know - Jake and Maggie - in the business. She is a grandmother of two, the first grandma I know to make her directorial debut. I'm very impressed. Maggie, her daughter is one of the hosts tonight. We're promoting everybody! Her mom told me to say this. Maggie has a show called The Honorable Woman. It was on BBC, it' a co-production with Sundance channel and that airs at 10 o'clock on July 31. So Naomi wants you to watch it. This is a big family affair here. I was a warm-up act. Here is Naomi, my great friend.

Naomi Foner: Many of you will recognise places and people inside of this movie because I've known you as long as the subject of this movie was in my head. Some of you, I hope, will forgive me for including little pieces of you in the movie itself. And only you will know. I made this movie because it was the kind of movie I always wanted to see myself when I was a young girl. I didn't want to see a movie that was a coming of age of a young man and I had to wiggle to kind of understand what that was like. I wanted to make a movie about intelligent, thoughtful young women and the struggles that they have. I tried, please forgive me, this is my very first try. Both Dakota [Fanning] and Lizzie [Olsen] are luminous, Boyd Holbrook is wonderful. All of the adults [Demi Moore, Richard Dreyfuss, Ellen Barkin, Peter Sarsgaard, and Clark Gregg] so generously took tiny parts so that the movie could get made. I want to thank Norton Herrick for making the movie possible. We would never have made it if that generous gentleman hadn't written the checks.

Director Naomi Foner on Dakota Fanning (Lilly) and Elizabeth Olsen (Gerry) in Very Good Girls: "This friendship depends on their telling each other the truth."
Director Naomi Foner on Dakota Fanning (Lilly) and Elizabeth Olsen (Gerry) in Very Good Girls: "This friendship depends on their telling each other the truth." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In Very Good Girls, "The wound is the place where the light enters," a quote from 13th century Persian poet Rumi, is hand written on the door of Foner's young protagonist's girlhood room. Dakota Fanning's Lilly and her best friend Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen) spend the last summer before going to college roaming through New York City, mostly on their bikes, from their beautiful homes in Brooklyn's Ditmas Park, to the boardwalk at Brighton Beach and the Synagogue For The Arts, a minute away from The Tribeca Grand Hotel, where this night's screening took place.

Both girls meet a guy (Boyd Holbrook) selling ice cream by the sea. His name is David Avery, likely an homage to Fred Astaire's photographer character, himself Stanley Donen's Richard Avedon homage. One of the girls is desired by David, the other desires him. One is more honest about what is happening than the other is. Demi Moore and Richard Dreyfuss play Gerry's parents. They like to discuss things. "She doesn't come from a family where you have to train for dinner," Gerry tells them about Lilly, whose parents (Ellen Barkin and Clark Gregg) are going through a rough time and don't communicate that much.

The biggest laugh at the screening came during a song Olsen's Gerry is singing in a cafe: "If you want to build a house in East Hampton - go ahead."

Foner's daughter, Maggie Gyllenhaal, wearing a beige silk Margiela onesie, talked to us about her mother's debut.

Tali Lennox, daughter of Annie Lennox on the Very Good Girls' red carpet.
Tali Lennox, daughter of Annie Lennox on the Very Good Girls' red carpet. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: Your mother's film is about friendship. What's important to you about friendship, in a friendship?

Maggie Gyllenhaal: You know, I think a real friendship is almost like a marriage. It requires a huge amount of work. There's friends that I have that I see now and then and I do my best to be there for them. But then there are the couple of real friends. The two or three people that you really have to work at it, that you've really grown with. And growing hurts. You've been through painful times with them, you've been through ecstatic times with them. I only have, I guess, I have three people like that really in my life.

The story of Very Good Girls shows what happens to a friendship when secrecy becomes an eddy that threatens to drown the relationship. With the truth gone, little of value remains.

MG: My mother has a real passion for the truth, for telling the truth, which is a major theme of the movie. She is probably the first woman to direct her debut film as a grandmother. She wrote it before I was born. I never read the script.

Gyllenhaal's husband, Peter Sarsgaard, plays a lecherous tourist boat supervisor.

MG: He has a teeny tiny little part in it. You have to use your imagination what it might be like to be directed by your mother-in-law.

Designer Nanette Lepore with daughter Violet on the Very Good Girls red carpet.
Designer Nanette Lepore with daughter Violet on the Very Good Girls red carpet. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

With female friendships depicted on screen being so rare, male friendships weren't much help either.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Are there stories of male friendships that maybe inspired this? With the female ones so rare on film, as you say?

Naomi Foner: No. It's not inspired by male friendships. It's inspired by female friendships and I tried to make it as real as possible from the female's point of view. Especially in the initiating sex scene where I wanted to feel what it was like to be a young woman having sex for the first time and all the awkwardness and all of the complicated feelings that you have. The lack of gracefulness that we all probably remember but that we rarely see on film.

And I wanted the movie really to be about how you can't have a relationship with anybody of any sort without the truth. This friendship depends on their telling each other the truth. And for whatever reason, they didn't. At least when you're a young adolescent, you sometimes think you're sparing somebody something. You don't want to hurt their feelings. Dakota says that in the movie. The truth is, you can't have a relationship if you do that and if you don't tell the truth. That seemed to be central to the whole movie. That was what it really is about for me. And we tried as hard as we could to get to it ourselves, with our limited resources.

It all began with an image.

Very Good Girls producer Norton Herrick at the Tribeca Grand Hotel after party.
Very Good Girls producer Norton Herrick at the Tribeca Grand Hotel after party. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

NF: A long time ago, there used to be a photograph on the cover of the script. It was taken by a friend of mine who is now a Magnum photographer in Paris. A photograph of a man dancing naked on the Brooklyn Bridge that he took in the middle of the night, actually, the sun was coming up. It was maybe his last year of high school. He had a fight with his family, he was walking around all night, he always knew he wanted to be a photographer. He had his camera. This man rode across the bridge, took off all his clothes, leaned his bike against the side and danced. Then he put them back on and rode away. Somehow, that symbolized for me that summer, the moment of transition. The bridge, the freedom, the risk-taking that you do when you're that age.

Role models were difficult for Foner to find.

NF: I wanted to do that about young women because I spent my own youth looking for people to identify with who had some drive. I wanted to have the kind of feisty interesting women who were struggling with real issues that I was looking for. Aside from Katharine Hepburn in black and white movies I couldn't think of one character that made me feel like, oh, yeah, I get that. And Jules And Jim. I have a little homage to that with the poster of Jules And Jim in her [Lilly's] bedroom. Because that opens the world when you see that people don't have to do it the way everybody has told you you have to do it.

Very Good Girls opens in the US on July 25.

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