She often plays complex women who deal with the consequences of their mistakes. But Sarah Jessica Parker's new film Here and Now, currently out in theaters, VOD, and digital, presents a particular challenge. Parker plays Vivienne, a gravely ill woman who sets out to make amends when her world begins to spiral. Watching the film, it’s difficult not to imagine yourself in Vivienne’s position, thinking about what you’d want to change if you discovered that you had a short amount of time left to live. But rather than telling a story that teaches a moral lesson, the film focuses on the many layers of its a protagonist.
“I think the thing that was more challenging about this particular role or this part of the story that we are seeing — this moment in her life — is that typically, when characters convey emotion, they share their vulnerabilities, or when they are being demonstrative, it is incited by conversation,” notes Parker when we chat in the Watch What Happens Live studio green room. “But there is so much of this movie that is internalized.”
Parker excels in that challenge, silently communicating so much of what Vivienne chooses not to divulge to her loved ones. We watch her grapple with putting on a strong front to mask the personal turmoil underneath, in the aftermath of her diagnosis.
The anxiety that comes with both her diagnosis and the thought that she has so little time to amend her mistakes causes Vivienne to internalize pain that overwhelms her throughout the film. The decisions that might frustrate viewers include hiding her diagnosis from her 16-year-old daughter Lucie (Gus Birney), to whom Vivienne deeply regrets not being a more hands-on parent.
“I feel that she is in some ways punishing herself. If she shares this news, she will invoke sympathy. Maybe she feels she is not entirely deserving of it. I don't think she would want to burden her daughter with this,” explains the actor.
Vivienne also desperately wants her mother Jeanne (Jacqueline Bisset) to pick up on the pain she’s feeling, both emotionally and physically, but Jeanne is too overbearing and self-absorbed to notice there’s something wrong.
“Because there's so much anger, and there's so much disappointment in that relationship, I think what she would prefer is for her mother to somehow intuit [her diagnosis] and be a source of comfort, and shelter, and she's not, so then it becomes a game of withholding,” says Parker.
Vivienne and Jeanne’s parenting flaws are vastly different, yet when Vivienne sees the way her mother treats her, she’s inspired to fix her relationship with her own daughter. Spoilers ahead! In an emotional scene towards the end of the film, Vivienne visits her daughter, who lives with her ex-husband (Simon Baker), staying by her side all night. Though Lucie doesn’t notice her mom is there, Vivienne weeps as she repents her faults. “Even if her daughter doesn't hear her, ‘I've missed so much’ ... I imagine she wishes her mother recognized that as well,” she says.
But as it grows more difficult to express what she’s feeling to her family, Vivienne finds comfort in an unlikely character: her Lyft driver, Sami (Waleed Zuaiter). She first meets him shortly after her diagnosis, and they have a hostile interaction when she asks him to lower the radio volume. But after a fateful instance reunites them, Vivienne forms a close bond with him as he drives her around New York City.
“I wanted very much for Waleed to play that part from the moment I read the script. I really wanted him to play that character, and so those scenes were comforting and fun to shoot,” she says. "It was easy with Waleed, to be silent with him, to be talkative. I think it's a surprising relationship, but not one that seemed unreal. I think those things can happen, you know? Especially in a city where you're just brushing up against each other all the time.”
In contrast, she doesn't feel at ease with the people supposedly closest to her, especially her mother. Vivienne finds solace in this stranger because they both have a mutual understanding of what it's like to feel lost and confused. In Sami's scenes, he hints at carrying his own pain when he tells Vivienne he needs to have an important phone conversation in private.
Their bond is unexpected, but Parker notes that it means just as much to Sami to feel needed as it does Vivienne. “She allows him to show his best self, and that must be a good feeling, and maybe he needed to be needed in that way,” she says.
The film isn't your traditional weepy drama about a terminally ill woman. Rather, it shows how the woman at the center of it is trying to make sense of her complex new reality, even if she's not doing it perfectly.