The family of director Ed Gaffney has been the foundation of his filmography since he has collaborated with them on each of his projects. His latest feature with them, Russian Doll, is edgy and ventures to some dark places. It is a noir thriller depicting a web of intrigue that will have you gasping by the very end. The film stars Gaffney’s two children, Jason T. Gaffney and Melanie Brockmann Gaffney, with Jason playing the main antagonist and Melanie playing the detective on his trail.
Even though Jason plays the menacing main villain and finds ways to get under your skin, Jason apparently couldn’t be more different from his character which is quite an indication of his acting prowess. Thankfully, Gaffney felt no feelings of uncomfortability when his son was bringing his antagonistic character to life.
“The big advantage for me in directing Jace was we’re really close. We’ve been working together for years on all kinds of different projects,” said Gaffney. “It was pretty easy for me as a dad. I mean, I know Jace. He’s a really, really good guy.”
As for Melanie as Viola, the detective who is on the trail of Jason’s character, she gives a performance that is warm and insightful yet tactful and restrained. Also, even though Viola is a lesbian, the film never turns that into a plot point. In fact, the decision to depoliticize gay characters is a practice that Gaffney intends to use in his projects. It is his intention to present those in the LGBTQ community as complex human beings in order for cinema to do a better job at reflecting the real world.
“There’s a lot of different kinds of people in the world and they’re not all straight, white guys like me,” said Gaffney.
Even though Viola does develop a love interest as the film progresses, their relationship is never politicized. Viola’s love interest, Faith (Marem Hassler), mainly acts as an intriguing MacGuffin because of how she provides Viola with key information to the main case, while helping Viola come out of her shell of anger that she has displayed since the tragic passing of her wife. Faith is able to do so through the use of their romantic chemistry as well as how Viola views her through her dreams or subconscious.
“I didn’t want Faith to be this dangling subplot that doesn’t have to do anything,” said Gaffney. “I wanted Faith nearby in a realistic manner.”
There is also a subplot involving Viola and her mother, Marjorie, that acts as a key component to Viola’s arc. Kristine Sutherland, who viewers might remember as Joyce from the TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, plays Marjorie and despite her having a sparse amount of screentime, she is still able to give a complex portrait of a mother who is loving yet no nonsense.
Gaffney had collaborated with Sutherland on his previous film, The Perfect Wedding, where she portrayed another maternal figure. According to Gaffney, on both projects, Sutherland made each set feel comforting with her grace and collaborative spirit. He even had some fun stories about the set of The Perfect Wedding where she would work closely with the behind the scenes crew even though her job was mainly in front of the camera.
“She was doing my job as a producer,” said Gaffney. “She was scrambling around, helping the costume and makeup people.”
Her rather motherly collaboration seemed to fit well on the sets of The Perfect Wedding and Russian Doll since both films were made by a filmmaking family.
However, despite Gaffney and his family becoming a filmmaking unit, it wasn’t his original intention to become a director. Gaffney was a law school graduate while his wife was the leader of a rock and roll band in Boston. But once they had children who got bit by the acting bug as they grew older, that is when the Gaffney family became involved in making movies.
“It was such a terrific and fun evolution of our relationship and I feel very, very lucky,” said Gaffney.
Thankfully, we will get to see the Gaffney family continue their filmmaking dynasty in the future. Both Gaffney and Jason co-wrote a film that Jason directed and is co-starring in called Analysis Paralysis. The film is a romantic comedy about a man, played by Jason, who is battling a severe form of anxiety and becomes constantly paranoid about a man that he is falling in love with. Surely, it’ll be quite a departure from the much darker Russian Doll.
“Russian Doll is this dark thriller, neo noir kind of thing and Analysis Paralysis is just ‘make you laugh, make you laugh’ then ‘make you cry,” said Gaffney.
The film is currently in post-production but hopefully, it’ll hit the festival circuit some time soon. Who knows how the Gaffney clan will tap into the human experience going forward but we can’t wait to see what more they have to offer.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Wolfe Releasing