In the romantic comedy “All I Wish,” first-time feature director/writer Susan Walter breaks the usual conventions for a coming-of-age movie to tell the story from the perspective of a middle-aged woman.
The film, which Walter also wrote, stars Oscar-nominated actress Sharon Stone (“Casino”) as Senna Berges, an aspiring fashion designer unlucky in love. When she meets Adam (Tony Goldwyn) on her 46th birthday and things don’t go very well, she assumes they will never see each other again. Fate, however, takes over and the two run into each other the following year – again on her birthday – and the following, and the following. Soon, Senna and Adam realize their serendipitous reunions are more than just coincidence.
During an interview with Walter, we talked about the inspiration she took from her favorite film “When Harry Met Sally…” to make “All I Wish,” working with Stone, who she said saved the film from essentially not being made, and her thoughts on soulmates.
So, where did the idea for a movie like this come from?
One of my all-time favorite movies across any genre is “When Harry Met Sally…” What I love about it is that it’s about a relationship that evolves over many, many years. I knew if I was going to do a romantic comedy, I didn’t want to do one of those movies where the characters meet-cute on Monday and are engaged by Friday. It didn’t feel very deep or realistic or satisfying to me. So, I wanted to construct a film about two characters who first have to find themselves to ultimately find a love relationship with one another.
So, if moviegoers bring up the similarities this movie has with “When Harry Met Sally…,” are you fine with that, or would you rather the film stand on its own?
Anybody can compare me to “When Harry Met Sally…” any day of the week. There is definitely an ode to that [movie], so I have to own that.
Why did you decide to center the narrative on Senna’s birthday each year?
Birthdays are a time for reflection. You sort of take stock of your life and who you are. Sometimes you’re disappointed. Cinematically, you’re bringing the same characters together because you always see the same people on your birthday. It seemed like a good cinematic hook to do it on her birthday, but it was also a way to extend the story over many years, which is what I wanted to do.
Is it still bad manners to ask a woman how old she is?
You know, it is. I don’t know that it should be though. The advice that I always get now that I’ve made my first film and am out there trying to make another one is to not tell people how old I am. I buy into that on one level because we all want to be young and look better and be a part of this youthful movement. But the truth is, you can look at my [film] credits and you’ll know that I’m not 30. So, why is it hard to own that? I do have a hard time owning it and I wish I didn’t. I wish that experience was valued more than youth. But the truth is, in Hollywood, it’s really not.
Talk about casting Sharon Stone in the lead role. What did you see from her that made you want to go that route?
Originally, I offered Sharon the role of the mom because the [main] character was much younger. Sharon read the script and latched onto it. Then, when the younger actress who was going to play Senna fell out, [Sharon] called me and said, “Don’t let this movie fall apart. I’ll be the lead.” At first I was taken aback by that because I hadn’t imagined a coming-of-age movie about a woman that old, to be honest. [Sharon] was in her 50s and you really can’t write a coming-of-age movie about a woman in her 50s. She said, “Susan, if this was a movie starring Bill Murray or Adam Sandler having some sort of Peter Pan syndrome and not wanting to grow up, you would get it immediately. Nobody’s made this movie. Let’s make a movie nobody’s made.” She convinced me. I have to give her full credit for having that vision and being bold.
Beside it not being a “movie nobody’s made,” why else did you want to tell this type of story?
Look, I’m not 20 myself. I’ve been in this business a long time – first as an assistant director and then as a creative director and then as a writer. If I want to believe I can reinvent myself as a filmmaker and director, then maybe it’s pretty cool that I’m making a movie showing a character doing pretty much the same thing. I think that’s a really powerful message. I think Sharon saw it before I did how important it was and how inspiring it could be for people of a certain age.
Are you married yourself?
I am. I have been married for almost 15 years.
What did your husband think about the scene you wrote where Senna and Adam talk about soulmates?
My husband is an engineer and he’s very logical. I actually stole that line from him where Tony’s character goes, “There’s seven billion people in the world. Surely I can make it work with at least five.” I’ve always been like Sharon Stone’s character in that love is like getting struck by lightning and you know you’re in love when you’re in it. So, in some ways, that relationship between Sharon’s character and Tony’s character is modeled loosely on my own.
I’m like your husband, but isn’t it a little unromantic to know that he thinks that way?
(Laughs) Yes, it’s totally unromantic! I almost didn’t marry him because of it! There’s another line in the movie where Tony’s character says to Sharon’s character, “What, is he supposed to know the minute he lays eyes on you?” The answer is yes! But my husband didn’t [know]! He was like, “Yeah, I’ll try her. Does she like the same things I do? Are our compatibility equations favorable? In the end, now that we have kids, having a family is like running a business together, so you’re priorities better be lined or there’s going to be friction. You’re hitting on what the central question of the movie is: do you choose love or does love choose you? Honestly, after 15 years of marriage, I think it’s both.