Tribeca Film Festival 2012: ‘Nancy, Please’

The quirky, dark satire, Nancy, Please takes the idea of self-sabotage and being your own worst enemy to a ridiculous, yet strangely engrossing level.

In a PopMatters interview, screenwriter/director Andrew Semans said that he and co-writer Will Heinrich started with a simple conflict: One person has something the other person wants and won’t give it back. “It’s particularly infuriating when someone makes life difficult for you, totally arbitrarily or seemingly arbitrarily, and is refusing to do something incredibly simple,” said Semans. “It just boggles the mind and you’re like, Why don’t they just do it?

In the movie, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, Paul (Will Rogers) is an English literature student, pursuing his Ph.D. at Yale University. After moving in with his loving, supportive girlfriend, Jen, (Rebecca Lawrence), Paul realizes he left his marked-up copy of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, a book he is using to write his dissertation, in his old apartment. He feels apprehensive about contacting his old roommate, Nancy (Eleonore Hendricks), to get it back. However, when Nancy ignores Paul’s voicemail and email messages asking for the book, the conflict escalates. Paul grows more enraged and obsessively convinced that Nancy is willfully trying to hurt him. His classmate, Charlie (Santino Fontana), more an enabler than a friend, only fuels Paul’s sense of injustice and animosity toward Nancy. In a pitch-perfect performance, Paul’s academic advisor, Dr. Bannister (Novella Nelson), speaks to him with academic authority. The professor’s demeanor starkly contrasts the gravitas of adulthood against Paul’s self-indulgent imagination.

In a director’s statement, Semans wrote, “Nancy, Please dramatizes how a seemingly mundane conflict can, in the proper psychological soil, evolve into something dangerous and destructive, and how passivity and misplaced idealism can lead to terrible consequences”. He also noted, “The script quickly became a pointed critique of some of our own most embarrassing flaws!”

The movie holds up a grotesque and distorted fun house mirror to procrastinators, who refuse to buckle down and take responsibility, but instead focus blame on forces beyond their control. Semans tips to irrationality an exaggerated psychological obsessing about a “nemesis”, who could be at school, at work or in a housing situation. Although Paul begins as the protagonist, over the course of the story, he becomes complicit in creating, maintaining and exacerbating the problem.

Semans grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and at 18, moved to Brooklyn. At 24, he graduated from the School of Visual Arts. Although he described his twenties as “taking a scenic route,” he explained with a laugh, “I wasn’t boxcar jumping or digging ditches” but always held jobs in the film industry. For several years he worked at the Criterion Collection, directed short films and worked for a producer. Now at 34, Semans created his first feature, Nancy, Please. The movie highlights one of the creative strengths of the Tribeca festival, in showing audiences quality, independent films, produced outside the mainstream.

“The movie was tailor-made to be made with a micro budget because we never could have raised a substantial amount of money for it because it’s too weird. It doesn’t fit within any certain genre and it’s just sort of an odd duck,” said Semans. However, he believes that a lower budget project can give filmmakers more artistic freedom. Instead of worrying about commercial success, while working within other constraints, the writer/director described this film as having “nobody around to say no”.

Semans hopes the end result is a funny comedy and a ghastly satire. He added, “I hope people find it’s not quite like a lot of movies out there”.