‘A Family Affair’ Director Richard LaGravenese Explains What’s Different About Making a Rom-Com in 2024

Netflix’s next rom-com has arrived in the form of “A Family Affair,” and it’s directed by a veteran of on-screen love stories in Richard LaGravenese. And, according to the director, making a rom-com in 2024 is indeed different than it was when he made “P.S. I Love You” in 2007.

The movie, now streaming, centers on Zara Ford (Joey King), a 24-year-old assistant to mega-movie star Chris Cole (Zac Efron). When Chris strikes up a romantic relationship with her mom Brooke (Nicole Kidman), Zara promptly freaks out, having had a front row seat to how horrible Chris is to women over the years.

Zara actively works to separate the two, but as the story progresses, she comes around to seeing that the pair just might be good for each other.

LaGravenese has plenty of experience in the romance arena — he wrote 1995’s “The Bridges of Madison County” and 1998’s “The Horse Whisperer,” and wrote and directed 2013’s YA romance “Beautiful Creatures.” TheWrap spoke with the filmmaker about his journey with “A Family Affair” and how the experience of making a rom-com in 2024 contrasts with his prior films.

Note: This interview does contain spoilers for “A Family Affair.”

I want to start at the very beginning with this one. How does this movie come across your desk? How do you get involved in this project?

My agent Brian Kend at CAA sent me the script. And I was very taken by Carrie Solomon’s writing and her voice. She was 24 when she wrote the script, and I thought that her voice is very smart, and fresh, and it was a fresh take to me, an opportunity to take a romantic comedy genre and make it a little bit more than just about a romance, but also a coming of age story between three different characters at three different stages of life.

I’m glad you said that, because there really are a lot of rom coms out there. We’re in this nice little renaissance.

We’re back! I know, they’re back.

They are! So I’m wondering, was there one specific thing in the script for “A Family Affair” that really made you want to make this movie?

Well, the first thing that comes to mind, I just loved that she was bold enough to go for slapstick. When the daughter walks in on her mother and her boss, and walks into a wall and knocks herself out — I’ve got to stage that. (laughs). I’ve got to figure out how that works. Because that just cracked me up, and we don’t often go that far. And it was all very real and very honest. And the three actors do it beautifully. Joey did that scene about seven times and every time, just knocked it out of the park.

When I saw it in the trailer, it’s the thunk. You can hear the thunk, and I was concerned for her!

I know! (laughs) She did such a great job, Joey. It was great seeing that on set. We’d laugh every time, it was wonderful.

I love it. Well, we’re talking about how rom-coms are back, and obviously you are responsible for one of the great love stories that we have in cinema with ‘P.S. I Love You.’ What are the challenges of making a rom-com now? Have things changed since when you did it then?

Well, one thing is you have to always be careful of too much sentimentality, I think we’re a much more cynical time right now. You have to be honest. I think every moment has to be questioned and say, ‘Well what would really happen? What would people really feel? What would they really say?’ And Carrie [Solomon, the film’s writer] and I were both very cautious about an ending that was too tied up, or too romantic.

I’ve always been fearful of romantic comedies, of perpetuating a myth that actually disturbed or confused people into thinking, ‘Well, if my relationship doesn’t look like that, then I don’t really have a great love.’ Where, you know, romantic comedies are not realistic in that way. They’re sort of fairy tales. But I’ve always tried to be a little bit more honest at the ending of movies. You know, relationships don’t always work out. And they’re not the be all and end all. So we wanted this ending to be, ‘Hey, we really love each other. We’re really great together. We don’t know what the future is going to bring. And we’re not going to make those promises. But let’s just go for it and see what happens.’

And that, to me is the most honest way of doing a romantic comedy today.

I like what you say about ‘How would people actually respond?Because I felt that with Joey King’s character, she really is that perspective in this movie, and I’m curious what kind of conversations you had specifically with her to hone that? She is kind of the voice of the audience at times.

Oh she absolutely is. And that’s Carrie Solomon’s voice. That’s the writer’s voice. Carrie and Joey, it was like a perfect symbiosis of writer and actress. There wasn’t really a lot of discussions to have with Joey. She’s so intelligent, and so instinctually funny. And also honest, she never sells a false note, she never acts. It’s always just being. So there weren’t a lot of discussions. She just understood this character right away. It was a voice that she slipped into very, very easily.


You also have some bonafide legends on this film. You have Nicole Kidman and Kathy Bates, and I just want to know about working with them. I have to imagine it makes your life as a director that much easier.

Well, Kathy I’ve worked with before, and I wanted her for this. She’s just one of the greatest actresses. I’ve loved her since her theater days in the late 70s, early 80s. She just one of the most solid, smartest, everything she says is honest. And she’s also very funny and instinctually comic, come up with really smart stuff.

And Nicole, well, of course, I was a little intimidated in the beginning, because she’s Nicole Kidman. And then getting to know her and work with her, she’s such a professional and intelligent partner. She’s not just this great actress who’s giving it to you 100 different ways whenever you want. She also partners with you and what’s best for the overall film.

And there were a couple of moments in the film that she would come up to me and say, ‘You know, I don’t think we have this moment. I think it’s important for these characters to have this beat before we go to here,’ and [she’d] go with Carrie to write it. She was just brilliant, and a wonderful force of calm, and professionalism, and grace, and talent. She’s just the best.

I also want to talk about Zac Efron, because I recently spoke to director Peter Farrelly, he just worked with him on a movie called Ricky Stanicky.’ And when I spoke to him, he said that ‘Zac Efron is the kind of actor that any director would like to work with.’


Because when you come at him with notes, he’s like, ‘OK, what do you have?’ Talk to me about this, how was that aspect of Zac on set?

Zac understood this character from the word go. He understood that the heart of this character was to be dead honest about his self-centeredness. So there’s this sweetness to Zac, that he says everything with such honesty, that it’s funny. He never pushes any of the humor, it’s all very sort of deadpan and earnest, which makes him even funnier, and makes him more empathetic.

And letting Zac go, giving him a safety net and letting him just improvise, and come up with stuff, he comes up with the greatest ideas and lines in each take. I mean, we did the car scene, many, many times where he would just come up with different lists of things that he would leave at his girlfriend’s house and stuff like that.

Letting him go, and trusting him and all the actors, Joey and Nic and Kathy, was the best way to work with them because they’re so talented. You know, only get in their way that much. So just giving them adjustments here and there. But really, it’s just trusting them.

Well, my favorite aspect of this movie was the one-on-one character moments, when two characters are sitting down, just having conversation, like four inches from each other. How did you bring those all together?

I guess because I love theater, and I love actors. So having two great actors act with each other, being in a scene where they relate to each other, is one of my favorite things, whether it’s a fast-paced comedy thing — like, I love the scene between Joey and Zac, when she quits, which is a very back and forth kind of rhythm that I love. They did it so beautifully.

And then there’s the quieter moments like Kathy and Nic on the couch, and the two of them [were] so wonderful with each other. They did that scene, maybe three or four times, and each time they found something deeper and richer. And it was, again, so honest, they just were so honest with each other. I don’t know. I just loved it. That’s when I sit back and I’m just a fan and I just watched the actors do their thing.

We’ve talked a lot about the love story of this, but there is also this underlying story with Joey’s character where she is an assistant, and she joined up with Chris because he promised her all of these things, but she’s under appreciated. And I think it hits even more after the strikes, because you see what it takes to get a movie made. So how important was having that plotline?

Very important! And it’s not really about the industry, as it is about a millennial, and the importance of finding your place, of finding your identity, of finding your own voice. And Carrie understood this very well, which is why she was adamant about Joey’s character not having any romantic entanglements. It was really about that character finding herself before anything else.

I love this story, because I mean, having a daughter myself who is a millennial, I feel like this generation is having a more difficult time finding themselves. Because there’s so much pressure, with social media and judgment out there, and people in their 20s becoming billionaires so quickly that, you know, you’re 24 years old, and if you haven’t made it yet you feel like a failure, which is, in my generation, ridiculous. Because for me, the 20s were all about taking risks, and failing and trying and trying different things.

No one expected you to have your life all figured out in your 20s. So, Joey’s character, to me, symbolizes that. She’s like, ‘When is my life gonna start?’ She’s only 24! But there’s a lot of pressure in this time for that. And I love that storyline of her finding herself.

I do too. Well, we are getting close to my time here, but I do need to ask before I go: Did you shoot Icarus, any of those scenes, for real?

(laughs). No. I wish we had, it would have been really fun. I mean I have no idea how those kinds of movies are made. I’m a fan, but I wouldn’t have any idea how to make them. But it was a really fun idea to play with.

And Zac had a great contribution with all that. I remember walking into set, he wanted to show me the hair. And he and his designer came up with the hair, which I thought was a perfect look.

It’s very Jack Frost, and it’s what makes me want to see these scenes! And you even have the marks on his back for —

Where the wings would be! (laughs)

Yeah! And so I’m like, these scenes have to be somewhere.

No, we never shot them. It would’ve been fun.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity

“A Family Affair” is now streaming on Netflix.

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