Back in 2008, Sarah Palin infamously visited a small town and praised it for being a part of “real America.” The implication being that her country was divided between two competing factions: those who were “real” Americans and those who were “fake” Americans, and if you weren’t like Palin or her supporters, you were in the latter camp.
Erin Greenwell thinks differently. Greenwell is the writer and director of the film festival darling My Best Day, a deliciously quirky and complex comedy about the inhabitants of a small town who are celebrating Independence Day. She believes there is no such thing as a “real” or “fake” American.
“A lot of times in our country, being different is for some reason labelled ‘un-American,’” she tells Xtra.
The movie is what you would call a comedian’s comedy — there are numerous intersecting character arcs, well-defined protagonists from all walks of life, and sharp, witty dialogue. Not only that, but as an open lesbian, Greenwell says including gay characters in her work is a logical part of the creative process.
“I would always just write the characters because they were what was in my landscape of experience. I was none the wiser,” she says. “People would be like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you have all these lesbian and gay characters!’ And I’d just think, ‘Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.’
“For me it’s always very natural. I never think I’m being provocative by giving a storyline to a lesbian or gay character, and, likewise, if the character is straight, they’re straight because it just appeared in my mind as that. The plot always serves the characters.”
One of the strongest elements of My Best Day is the juxtaposition of openly gay and lesbian characters with classic Americana imagery. For Greenwood, the image of motorcycle-riding lesbians alongside waving flags was a serendipitous, but welcome, part of filming.
“That was accidental, but after a while it was like, we couldn’t not have an American flag in the shot,” she says with a laugh. “It felt like a magical, Zen thing. It was incredible. [My Best Day takes place] on the Fourth of July, so we wanted to make sure you could tell it was the Fourth of July. But ironically, there were flags everywhere. They just kept showing up in the shot. It was a nice reminder that we all deserve to be American.”
As a small-town girl herself, Greenwell knows all too well that the rural parts of America are home to more than just heteronormative WASPs. “I came from the Midwest, and of course, a small town has gay people and a small town has people of colour. So to me, it was exciting to see people who weren’t stereotypically American,” she says. “They’re usually not given visibility in that setting.”
But her proudest moment touring with My Best Day was when a member of the Sundance Film Festival described her movie as “subversive and sunny.”
“To me, that’s why I write comedy,” Greenwell says. “You can make something subversive while not shutting out the person you’re trying to get in on the discussion. It’s funny, but it’s not alienating anyone. I’m someone who doesn’t want to take comedy too seriously, but it’s a lot of fun when you can knock out some political issues and make people laugh about it.”