After the success of female-led coming of age stories like Lady Bird, there’s been a demand for stories that realistically portray womanhood. Luckily, a new film that perfectly captures its various stages, from adolescence to middle age, has emerged this year. All These Small Moments, which premiered at April's Tribeca Film Festival, features the teenage Howie (Brendan Meyer) as its protagonist, but the story is hardly about him. Instead, it focuses on the women in his life — Molly Ringwald, Jemima Kirke, and Harley Quinn Smith — and the various generations they represent.
"[The movie] really does get into the women a lot, these women at the different stages of their life,” says Ringwald, speaking over the phone to Bustle as she prepares for the film’s premiere. “I’m sort of this one crucial stage, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Harley as the young one — she has her whole life ahead of her. And there’s Jemima, and she’s kind of in the middle."
In the film, Howie grapples with his parents’ tumultuous marriage and develops a crush on a mysterious blonde named Odessa (Kirke), but once his fantasy becomes a reality, he learns that Odessa is far from being the imagined perfect older woman he believed her to be. When she's first introduced, we hear Howie’s narration of what he imagines her to be like. Kirke's portrayal of Odessa is thus both an idealized version — what Howie sees — and a sad, complicated young woman who isn’t nearly as put together as she comes off to a teenage boy.
For Kirke, it was a fun challenge to shape the character into both being a “neurotic mess” and the ultimate male fantasy. “Because I knew that I was being seen in a soft, glowing light of affection by this teenage boy, I thought ‘OK, I’ll be the best version of me. The sort of Hollywood version of who I am,’” the actor explains when we chat at the Roxy Hotel.
Oftentimes, movies present this type of story in a way that has an older man taking advantage of a teenager’s precocious nature, but writer/director Melissa Miller Costanzo wanted to explore what it means when it’s an older woman acting on a lustful teenager’s desires instead. According to Kirke, Odessa’s problematic actions come from a desperate desire for validation after struggling with her self-image amidst a painful divorce.
“Someone’s actually paying attention to her, and it feels good, and maybe she doesn’t think she’s pretty, and maybe she thinks she’s not desirable," says Kirke. "She’s going through a divorce, so I’d imagine that any attention from a young boy like this to see you, just as perfect as you are, is very seductive... We have so much self-criticism as women, and we’re always trying to get people to like us and to be attracted to us. The easiest target for that is a teenage boy. A teenage boy buys everything that you sell: they buy the knee. The red lip. The touching of the shoulder.”
The topic of divorce is a vital part of the film. All These Small Moments shows two separate stories: Howie’s parents (Ringwald and Brian d’Arcy James) who are struggling to keep their marriage afloat, paralleled with Odessa, who wasn’t able to salvage her marriage and blames herself for it. Ringwald's Carla often oversteps boundaries and takes out her frustrations on her children, attempting to create an image of a healthy family life as she grapples with her husband's affair. For the actor, being a mother herself let her understand how difficult that experience could be. “I never had to go through divorce having kids, so I can only imagine the stress and the confusion and the heartache and panic that somebody feels in that position," says Ringwald.
Kirke, a mother of two, also connected with that element of the film. "I’m interested in stories that don’t say that there’s a wrong way or a right way to do things. That don’t judge that,” says the actor. “There are times with my kids that I’ll do something as a parent that I wouldn’t want advertised. But that doesn’t mean that my love isn’t perfect and my family isn’t perfect for me."
Having gone through a divorce herself, Kirke felt especially close to the movie's subject matter. “[Miller Costanzo] wrote it in such a way that I could put my sort of experience on top of it, weave it into the role a little bit,” the actor explains. “Getting a divorce or breaking up with someone is almost as intense as falling in love with them, but in the other way. And it’s not falling out of love with them, but you are more involved with them than you ever were because you’re so vulnerable to each other now, because there’s so much sadness and resentment and anger and vulnerability.”
Besides Ringwald and Kirke’s characters, the film also features Harley Quinn Smith as Lindsay, a teen girl who teaches Howie about the hardships young women face. In one poignant scene, Lindsay details her experience with attempted sexual assault, a topic relatable to far too many women. “Thankfully I’ve never had to deal with [sexual assault] in my own life, but I think it’s something that all women can kind of understand and connect to really easily,” says Smith, when we chat at the Roxy Hotel. “I have friends who have been assaulted... so it just was very ingrained into my heart. I cried reading that part because I could feel her pain and I really do appreciate the chance to be able to speak about assault so honestly, because it’s a disgusting thing that happens all the time.”
As the daughter of filmmaker Kevin Smith, the actor also connected strongly to Lindsay's struggle to ignore the disturbing comments made about her appearance by men in hr life; over the years, Kevin Smith "fans" have made objectifying comments about his daughter whenever he shared photos of her on social media. “It hurts every single time you see it and it’s disgusting,” says Smith. “It’s something that I’m unfortunately now used to, but not something that I’ll ever be OK with, which is why, I think, it’s so important to speak out because it shouldn’t be the norm and it shouldn’t be something that you have to be used to. It should be something that no one ever has to see.”
For Smith, working alongside Ringwald and Kirke, who use their platforms to speak out about gender roles and the way women are portrayed in film and TV, was inspiring. In March, Ringwald published an essay in The New Yorker about the problematic elements of some of her most iconic John Hughes movies, while Kirke has often been outspoken about the importance of amplifying women’s voices in the industry. “I’m so thankful for their voices and for them being so public about their beliefs because I think that for anybody in the public eye, it’s their responsibility to speak on behalf of people who aren’t,” says Smith.
With this powerful trio of women behind it, All These Small Moments will remind audiences everywhere just how important it is to acknowledge female voices and give female artists the space to tell their stories.