Daryl Wein has directed a documentary (Sex Positive), a political thriller (Consumed), and several films — including Breaking Upwards, Lola Versus, White Rabbit, and How It Ends — that fall into the “relationship, dramatic comedy realm,” as he puts it. His choices, he says, “depend on what I’m going through in the moment, and what subject feels fresh and interesting to me.”
Wein’s latest film, Something From Tiffany’s, fits into the latter realm, but it’s also quite different. Now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Something From Tiffany’s is a straight-up, unapologetically old-school romantic comedy, and it’s Wein’s first film since the end of his personal and professional relationship with Zoe Lister-Jones, his frequent co-writer and leading lady. It’s also the first feature he’s directed that he didn’t also write or produce.
Set in New York City over the holidays, Something From Tiffany’s follows high-energy bake shop owner Rachel (Zoey Deutch, who also executive produced the film with Reese Witherspoon), who seems content with her longtime boyfriend, Gary (Ray Nicholson), while Ethan (Kendrick Sampson) is about to pop the question to his longtime girlfriend, Vanessa (Shay Mitchell), much to the excitement of his daughter, Daisy (Leah Jeffries). An accident in front of Tiffany’s results in a swap of Gary and Ethan’s respective blue Tiffany’s bags, and Rachel ends up with a huge engagement ring intended for Vanessa, while Vanessa receives a pair of earrings meant for Rachel. Cue the complications when Ethan tries to retrieve the ring from Rachel, and sparks fly between the two of them.
Wein recently chatted with Above the Line over Zoom and discussed his growth as a director, the joys and challenges of making Something From Tiffany’s, and his upcoming projects.
Above the Line: If you can be at all objective, how would you say you’ve evolved as a filmmaker since your first feature film, Breaking Upward?
Daryl Wein: I think, over time, I’ve dialed in character and structure even further, on a deeper level, and continued to tackle subjects that have a lot of social resonance and meaning. That’s a hard question to answer. I guess, as a director, I’ve gotten a little bit more specific with the way that I’m moving the camera, and in terms of how I’m portraying the characters, just in my approach with the actors, and with the cinematography. I actually DP’d three of my features, which was fun, so I had an even more intimate role in the storytelling for those films.
ATL: If I could give you a do-over on one of your films, which, with all of your experience now, would you take another whack at?
Wein: I actually would go back to Consumed, which was the first political thriller that I made. At the time, I wanted it to feel like a classic ’70s thriller, structurally, and I was fairly safe with the way I shot it. But when you go back and you look at those movies, like The Parallax View and Klute, or some of those paranoid thrillers, the cinematography is a little bit looser, and at times can be a bit more informative of the psychological state of what’s going on with the characters. I felt like I wanted the framing at the time to be a little bit simpler in its power. I wish I had reflected [Zoe Lister-Jones’ character] unraveling a little bit further and gone a little bit wilder with the way [we] filmed the movie.
ATL: How did Something From Tiffany’s come your way?
Wein: The script came to me through my agent at the time, and I read it and I was excited to partner with Hello Sunshine and develop a relationship with them and Reese Witherspoon. Amazon was making it as a “Go” movie, and I was excited to continue my relationship with them. I’ve worked with them on the TV side on Mozart in the Jungle.
Zoey was attached to the script and it was that beautiful, classic kind of romantic area that I knew if I got my hands on it, I could pay homage to films like When Harry Met Sally and My Best Friend’s Wedding. My whole approach was to have it feel timeless and heartfelt and fresh, because the romantic comedy genre definitely can become broad and quite artificial. So, I was looking to craft a more grounded narrative.
ATL: Let’s break that down. You’re essentially a gun for hire on this. You didn’t write it. You didn’t produce it. So how was this experience different for you?
Wein: It was really fun. It was really fun because I wasn’t as precious about the script as I might have been had I written it. [I] can get a little bit stubborn about certain story points and how certain scenes are crafted. [But] Ii something’s not working and you didn’t write it, it’s easier to say, “Let’s change it” or “Let’s go in this direction.” I was able to also approach it from a more objective point of view, because I hadn’t already been inside it, writing it for a year, or however long it takes to craft a screenplay. So, it was fun to just add my layer [as a director] on top and work with the writer to transform the script [and take it in] the direction that I felt was most appropriate.
ATL: The holiday rom-com is a very specific genre. How did you want to push the envelope and put your own stamp on it, so to speak, and is that why you shot the movie anamorphically?
Wein: So, from a cinematography perspective, it’s grainy, or it’s more dramatically lit. It feels a bit more throwback. I made sure New York was a big character in it. I am an actor-driven director and I come from acting as my background, so, I think all the performances are really grounded and nuanced, and three-dimensional. That is a key component, so it doesn’t feel, again, too broad or stereotypical. I tried [to] make sure that the story felt deep, but that there was also the right amount of comic relief in certain places, and doing that in a way that felt sophisticated and mature.
ATL: What did Zoey and Kendrick bring to the table for you?
Wein: Zoey and Kendrick are such an amazing duo, and they’re unexpected. They both are so unique in different ways. Zoey is really gregarious and a spitfire and smart and spunky, and Kendrick has this laidback, cool, suave, sophisticated quality that is just effortless. I don’t know how to describe it. They’re both really soulful, the two of them together, and their connection is so strong. They see this presence in each other in the movie. And they’re both thoughtful and lean into this forward way of thinking. And, just as actors, they’re both super-professional, super-fun to work with, [and] really easygoing. I loved collaborating with them.
ATL: You’ve filmed in New York City before, but how challenging was it to do it during the peak holiday season?
Wein: Oh my god, it’s the best. I made two other movies in New York, Breaking Upwards and Lola Versus. So, it was so fun after that much time to come back and work on another film here. I was just like a kid in a candy store. I was pinching myself to be in Central Park, opposite the Guggenheim, in Bryant Park, on the Highline, having Zoey walk across 23rd Street. It was just so fun to come back to the city, and I tried my best to shoot it in a way that was cinematic and to use parts of the city I hadn’t shot before, like the whole East River sequence and the bridges. We shot at a pier that I had never been to, and I think we’re the first, actually, to shoot on that pier, which was exciting.
Making a movie in New York is always a thrill because there are so many people and there’s so much energy. It’s the reason people love New York, in general. I just did my best to shoot around the masks and to incorporate as much of the real New York vibe as possible.
ATL: I appreciated the songs that are sprinkled throughout the film, from Dean Martin’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” to LCD Soundsystem’s “Oh Baby,” and Nancy Wilson’s “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” plus several off-the-beaten-path Christmas tunes. How hands-on were you in picking the music?
Wein: Oh, I picked all the music. I had two great collaborators on the music supervision side from a company called We Are Walker. So, I’ve got to give them a shout-out. But I had a pretty strong point of view on the music and what I wanted to do from the get-go. I told them, ‘These are all the songs that I want to put in the movie,’ and then whatever we couldn’t afford or do in the end, they were like, ‘Alright, how about this? This goes with your vibe.’ But I always wanted the soundtrack to be a mixture of throwback soul and Temptations and that more nostalgic holiday feel mixed in with some fresh contemporary tracks. Like, we have LCD Soundsystem, which is not so brand-new, but he’s obviously an amazing, more contemporary musician that fits well with some of our throwback Dean Martin-like tracks. It’s fun to just have that contrast, I think, in creating a soundtrack. You don’t want it to feel too Christmas-y. You want it to have a pulse. You want it to have emotion. So, I spent a lot of time crafting that with the team.
ATL: What are you doing next and what kinds of things do you want to do in the future?
Wein: I have so many things I want to do. The next movie that I wrote is actually a really big, Moonstruck-style family comedy set in Italy. I love Italy, and I wanted to make a movie there and spend more time living there. That was the goal with that one. So, that’s coming down the pike. We’re in development on it now, so, hopefully sometime in the next year or two. And then I have a TV show that I’m working on at FX that dives deep into the world of wellness and all things about how to heal yourself inside and out. That’s a narrative, so it should be fun and interesting to make.
ATL: Last question. You wrote with a partner (Zoe Lister-Jones) for many years, and now you’re writing solo. How different is it? It’s got to change the equation, right?
Wein: That’s true. It is [different]. It’s challenging and it’s freeing, because you don’t have that person to bounce ideas off of, [but] it’s fun because you can do whatever you want. I like to write some stuff solo [and] some stuff with a partner. Like, my TV show, I’m working with a friend, and the movie I wrote by myself. It just depends on the project, really.
Something From Tiffany’s is now streaming on Prime Video.