For her screenwriting debut, Julie Rudd set out to write a comedy that connected with moms like herself. The result, Fun Mom Dinner, follows four women (Katie Aselton, Toni Collette, Bridget Everett, and Molly Shannon) as they cut loose and develop real friendships on a wild night out on the town. Over drinks, drugs, and karaoke, the women discover they have much more in common than just marriage and motherhood. Adam Scott, Rob Huebel, Adam Levine, John Early, Paul Rust, David Wain, and Julie’s husband Paul Rudd all make sideline appearances, but the movie is truly centered around the complexities and joys of female friendships. I talked with Rudd about mom friends, her days as a publicist in the nineties, and writing relationships.
Why was this the story you really wanted to tell?
I think it was a matter of me sort of having an idea really at the right time. I had a really simple idea: “Gosh, nobody has really made a mom movie where the moms kind of feel real.” This was pre-Bad Moms when I had the idea. Also in my life, I am a mom, a full-time mom, and I was living that life of a full-time mom. And when my kids started school, I had some apprehension about “What are all the moms going to be like? Am I going to like the moms? Am I going to make friends?” What ended up happening was I ended up finding an amazing group of mom friends, and I was really surprised by how much this group of ladies enriched my life and how amazing I felt among them, how known I felt, how appreciated I felt, how much we all were there for each other and helped each other and how much fun we had together. It really took me by surprise that this could happen to me with a group of new friends when I’m in my forties. I kind of wanted to celebrate that – I wanted to celebrate this bond between friends and how worthy it is to let other moms into your life and to let them help you. I wanted to make a fun movie, but I also wanted to celebrate this friendship. I thought, “I can’t be the only one who feels this way. There have to be lots of other moms out there who feel like their lives are better because of these other women that they have in their life.”
Why do you think there aren’t more movies about the mom’s experience?
I don’t know. Probably because there aren’t enough women making movies or because if men are writing the movie it doesn’t seem as real, it’s not their experience. But I think that the more women who start writing and making movies, the more we’ll start seeing stories about women, about things that we care about. This one obviously just being a slice of fun – it’s not trying to do anything too significant, it’s just about a night out where women have fun, but I do hope that moms see a little bit of themselves up there. As much as it’s a comedy, I hope that the women feel real. That was always so important that they feel like real people up there.
How long did you spend writing the script?
It was about a year of me rolling around the idea and taking lots of notes and figuring out how many moms should it be – four? Five? And who they all should be. I thought it was important to maybe try to say something with each of the moms. I thought one of the moms should be at a more difficult place in her marriage. I thought maybe one should be divorced so she’s trying to redefine herself or she’s a little afraid of what her future will be. So once I kind of figured out who the women were, and I knew obviously that they were going to go out to dinner together, it took me a while to figure out that some interesting stuff has to happen so that they’re all bonded together by morning. So it probably took me a good year of rolling around the idea and then when I actually sat down to write it as a script it took me about four and half months of dropping my kids off at school and then writing every day from 9:30-1:30 five days a week at the dining room table.
What was the most challenging scene to write?
I think that some of the stuff between Emily (Katie Aselton) and Tom (Adam Scott) was interesting because I just knew that that had to seem real. We wanted to capture that they’re sort of in a bad place, but I liked the idea of it not being all spelled out. I think in marriages, it’s not that married people are always fighting, it’s almost more about what’s not happening – sort of missed connections. I wanted to try to depict this ebb they were at in their marriage without spelling it out, so that was challenging. And writing the dads was challenging, but also really fun.
What made Alethea Jones the right director for Fun Mom Dinner?
Well, producer Naomi Scott and I met with a lot of directors, and we felt very strongly that it be a female director. And first of all, Alethea is brilliant. She had such incredible ideas. The short films that we had watched of hers before meeting her were so beautiful. I had been living with the script for a few years and after meeting with her I thought, “Wow, she could really make this film have a look and a style.” These are the kind of things that I wasn’t even focused on. And this is the kind of stuff that she’s going to bring to it and make it so much better. On top of that, we learned that she’s so collaborative on set. She’s so fun and the set was fun and happy and she’s great with actors. Probably the single best choice we made in terms of Fun Mom Dinner was the decision to hire Alethea Jones.
Did the final film live up to your expectations?
Yes, completely. Obviously, you hope that everybody likes it, but deeply for me I hope that women and moms in particular, if they take the time to see it, I want them to leave feeling that maybe they saw themselves up there, that it felt real, that you do leave with this feeling that it is something that is celebrating the power of friendship between women.
What was your favorite part of the movie to watch?
Oh gosh, I’ve seen it a hundred times now so it really changes. I mean I love the dad stuff, I love the scene with Molly Shannon and Paul Rust on the dock, I love the dispensary scene. I love the ending, without giving anything away. I hope it’s the kind of movie that leaves people smiling when they walk out of the theater. I love when I’m smiling and walking out of a movie.
You used to work as a publicist. Any crazy stories from those days?
You know, what’s so funny – I’ll be dating myself, and that’s fine – but when I worked as a publicist it was before the internet, does that sound crazy? I can’t even imagine. I worked as a publicist in the nineties and early 2000s and I can’t even imagine what a publicist has to deal with today. For me it was like, “I’m going to try to get you in the New York Times, we’re going on the Today show,” it was a very cut-and-dried type of thing, whereas today it’s gotta be like the Wild West out there. It was a very different time. Paparazzi was not really a thing. By the way, I feel like I’m talking about life in the 1890s. It was a very different ballgame then. It was just about promoting the movie.
Have your real-life mom friends seen the movie?
Yes! They love it. It’s so sweet, they’re so proud of me. And I tell them all the time, they really are the inspiration, though the characters aren’t based on anyone. That’s what’s fun about it. The seed of each of these four moms is me a little bit, or some facet of something I feel familiar enough with within myself that I can understand. But then the real fun of being a writer is that then you create a whole person, a whole fictional person – they became real to me. I started understanding, I know what they would say, I know how they would feel in this moment. But from my own mom friends, even though I know they aren’t seeing themselves exactly up on the screen, I think this whole journey has been a wonderful thing to share with them every step of the way.
Fun Mom Dinner hits selects theaters and video on demand today.