Longtime VICE contributors and honey bunnies Janicza Bravo and Brett Gelman are responsible for the Hair Trilogy of VICE magazine columns entitled Toupee, Combover, and Rat Tail, respectively. And not only are they dark comedic geniuses and human beings par excellence, they are also very talented filmmakers. Case in point: Janicza’s new short film Gregory Go Boom, starring Michael Cera as a wheelchair-bound dorkface who just wants to fire BB guns into the Salton Sea with his older degenerate brother (who is, of course, played by Brett), lose his virginity, and generally have some fun in his life for once. It’s absurdly funny and slightly depressing (just like modern life), and you can watch the whole fuckin’ thing below. A couple weeks back I chatted with J&B over baba ghanoush and margaritas about the new film and why they did such a thing.
VICE: People won’t really get this question until they see the end of the movie, but Gregory Go Boom… did the idea start with the title?
Janicza Bravo: Yeah, it started with the title. Well, no, it started with Brett and I going out to dinner with Brett’s uncle around two years ago.
What sort of uncle are we talking about here?
Janicza: He’s a really cool uncle.
Does he look like Brett?
Janicza: Yeah, he does. He’s handsome, really tan, little, really strong body.
That sounds nice.
Brett Gelman: He likes to have a good time.
Janicza: White hair.
Brett: A very positive man.
Janicza: Very positive. We were waiting to have dinner with him and before he got there, there was a man sitting next to us who was in a wheelchair and who was, like, obsessively staring at his phone. He was in one of those really fancy electric wheelchairs that could probably do fine on a highway or something like that. Anyway, he kept looking at his phone and eventually Brett’s uncle comes, we’re having dinner with him, and I’m kind of infatuated with... it just seemed like the guy in the wheelchair was waiting for somebody. Then this woman walked in and she’s late. It’s raining a little bit outside. She’s British. She’s looking around, sees him, and her face is like, Holy shit. And she sits down and immediately apologizes for being late, but she also says she can’t be there for very long. And he’s like, “Oh, OK.” And she’s like, “I have to make a call.” So she gets up and leaves. I went outside to have a cigarette and overheard her conversation on the phone, which was that she had been set up on a blind date with him but hadn’t been told that he was in a wheelchair. She was really pissed off about that.
How’d that make you feel? There’s a level of honesty there—and this is mirrored in the film—that you can’t really deny. People want to be nonjudgmental and whatever, but you witnessed an undoubtedly honest moment outside that restaurant and incorporated it into the film.
Janicza: I mean, I think that, to me, that guy is disabled or handicapped. And obviously I am physically very able. But, then again, I have my own handicaps. We all do. And so it made me feel really bad. Because I think I have my own broken things like that, you know? Being of color, being a woman. I experience my own things as a result. But I also think that, if I had been set up with somebody that was in a wheelchair, I would just want to know that beforehand. Anyway, she comes back inside, and he’s ordered two glasses of prosecco.
And she’s like I’m definitely going to leave soon. She drank it really fast. And they continued to drink and have a really great time.
She didn’t walk out on him?
Janicza: No, she stayed.
So this short takes place in the Salton Sea, which to me is a great setting to heighten certain uncomfortable realities.
Janicza: I’d become really infatuated with the Salton Sea, and I thought it’d be great to set this kind of story in that place. And to kind of write in my language but in that environment. So it’s a little bit heightened, but it still feels like it makes sense. It’s not like anywhere I’ve been.
Have you visited there before you shot it?
Janicza: Yeah I had.
Brett: Twice before we shot it, right?
Janicza: Yeah. I visited once because I was interested, and then I just kept thinking about it. Then I wanted to spend more intimate time there, and it just seemed like a good place for the film to take place it. I mean, when you read the script, it wouldn’t work in LA, where we live. It needed to feel like it was somewhere special—like an island, you know? Somewhere where there weren’t that many people.
Well, it’s like, what’s Michael Cera’s character’s—uh, oh shit, never mind…
Obviously. Duh. Oh fuck, I’m dumb.
Janicza: Gregory. The film...
Brett: It’s just in the title!
We’ll leave all that in the interview, don’t worry. I really enjoy self-deprecation. More people should be OK with it. It should happen more often.
Janicza: Please, you’d better leave that in.
Oh, I promise you.
Brett: If I speak at all in this interview, I will trump your embarrassment. I will say something way worse.
That’s going in, too. And Brett, you play the creepiest character in the film, which makes perfect sense. You really came off as someone who lived near the Salton Sea. Mad serial-killer vibes.
Brett: Oh, I did? Thank you.
It’s the same in real life.
Brett: Oh, I know.
Janicza: In your personal life, that’s what you definitely seem.
It seemed like some of the people in the movie were natives of the region—well, maybe exaggerated versions. What were the locals like?
Janicza: I mean there’s definitely a town of people who are born and raised and have history and roots there. But then there’s also a feeling of, like, rapists, tax evasion, criminals, people with guns. It just seems like maybe a lot of the people there ran away from something. I wouldn’t say in Bombay Beach, where we shot the film, it feels like that. But in Slab City, where Salvation Mountain is, Slab City— “the last free city in America”—there are definitely, like, murder vibes.
How did you instruct Michael Cera to prepare for the role?
Janicza: As I said, I’d been to the Salton Sea few times, so I’d taken a lot of photographs. I sent him a bunch of the pictures, we hung out, we talked about it. But I really entrusted him with the role because we were both on the same page about it.
But had he been there before you started shooting?
Janicza: No he’d never been there, but seeing my photos gave him a sense of the world. And we had talked about a few real-life people that inspired his character. We talked a little bit about Daniel Johnston—people who just seem like the summation a lot of really bad things, or unfortunate things.
How did you link up with him? Did you have him in mind?
Janicza: Yeah, I mean, we linked up because we’re working on a full-length together—Lemon, which Brett and I wrote together.
Brett: Can we say that?
Janicza: We can say that, that’s how we know Michael.
If you want to, it doesn’t have to go in...
Brett: Don’t put that in.
Janicza: Yeah, go ahead and put it in.
Brett: Yeah, make me seem like a little coward—a total asshole. Oh, this... this is mine? [looks at the table] Is this my phone?
No, that’s mine, I just took the case off.
Brett: Oh, OK.
Yeah, I’m recording you. I’m not a pickpocket.
Brett: Have we had that many margaritas?
Janicza: You have, apparently.
You’re drugged actually. I already touched your privates a few times when you were passed out.
Brett: I remember one of those.
Brett: It was great.
Brett: It was great.
You’ve still got some… stuff in your beard.
Brett: I thought you were her, but...
Hey, what can I say, I have small hands.
Janicza: Your hands are tiny, aren’t they? A little bit bigger than mine.
A little bit bigger, but you wouldn’t know.
Janicza: Once it’s on a dick, you never know the difference. Uh... what?
We’re leaving that in, too.
For more from Janicza and Brett, check these out: