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'Women in Trouble'

Sebastian Gutierrez writes and directs the series of vignettes, which opens Friday.

November 08, 2009|Mark Olsen

Over one eventful day in Los Angeles, a series of women -- including a newly pregnant porn star, an uptight businesswoman, a masseuse, an escort, a therapist and a teenager -- all find themselves in surprising situations with unexpected people. Structured as a series of vignettes involving only a few characters at a time, "Women in Trouble," in theaters Friday, creates a world of campy happenstance and sexy confessionals reminiscent of the screwball melodramas of Pedro Almodovar.

Venezuelan-born writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez, whose credits as a screenwriter include "Snakes on a Plane" and "Gothika," wanted a departure from the horror movies he had found himself working on in recent years, and was inspired to create something more to his personal tastes. So he financed "Women in Trouble" on his own and shot many scenes in the historic Hollywood Hills house he shares with actress Carla Gugino (who plays porn star Elektra Luxx).

"The irony is that I'm a pretty private person, I'm not one to usually have a bunch of people in my house," Gutierrez said while sitting on his poolside patio. "But this was literally a 10-person crew, with about two actors every day. I thought, 'I can have 12 people in my house. That's like a dinner party.' "

The unusual vignette-style of "Women in Trouble" had its origins in a 10-page scene he had written for a previous script involving two women getting dressed. When it didn't make the final draft, he thought the extended scene might make for an interesting short film. Then he thought, why not write nine more scenes and make it into a feature? The idea was to shoot a scene a day (although the planned 10-day shoot actually took 12) and he would write the script so each vignette essentially needed only two actors.

The film's intimate style also made it easy to nab actors for only a day, or at most three, and the cast makes for quite a flow chart of colleagues and friends mostly tracing back to Gutierrez and Gugino. Simon Baker (and Gugino) appeared in Gutierrez's earlier feature "Judas Kiss." Marley Shelton and Gugino both appeared in "Sin City." Shelton appeared with Josh Brolin in "Grindhouse." Connie Britton and Adrianne Palicki both appear on "Friday Night Lights." Emmanuelle Chriqui is on "Entourage," where Gugino has had a recurring role. Gutierrez's teenage daughter makes her screen debut in "Women in Trouble," and his son acted as de facto dog wrangler, keeping the family pet out of shots. Musician Robyn Hitchcock, who did the score, has also written songs for Guiterrez's previous projects.

The film finds its female characters revealing of themselves as they are caught in unguarded moments in an elevator, a car, a dressing room and the like. The film acts as a secret peek into the emotional lives and private moments of its characters.

"It's nothing new that women don't get to do much in Hollywood," explained Gutierrez. "They usually get stuck playing the girlfriend, so they can be the good girlfriend or the bad girlfriend and that's the extent of it. And I don't know any women like that, the women that I know are smart and sexy, confident and confused, just full of contradictions -- which is why they are interesting and mysterious."

"There's that sense that women are crazy and you love them not in spite of that but because of that," said Gugino, on the phone from Vancouver where she is shooting "Sucker Punch" for director Zack Snyder. "We're really complex creatures, and I think Sebastian really embraces that with these characters."

In making a film that flirts with camp humor, Gutierrez walks a fine line between a playful sense of racy fun -- take note of the purple chaps worn by Chriqui, or the way Gugino and Britton play out a scene in their underwear -- and the truer, tougher emotions that are revealed.

"It's very hard to do sexy and funny at the same time without choosing if it's funny and sexy to men or women," said Gutierrez. "But I don't like the negative connotation of either, the piggish guy who would only go see a movie because there's a woman in lingerie in it or the cliched perception of a cartoon feminist who scoffs at that because it's demeaning to women. The movie is neither of those things."

Gutierrez has been so energized and enthused by the experience of making "Women in Trouble" that there are even plans to complete a trilogy of films in the same style with many of the same characters. A second film, "Elektra Luxx," has already been shot, while a third, "Women in Ecstasy," is still to come.

Shooting on a fast schedule with a tiny budget using mostly his own house as a location, Gutierrez has nevertheless come up with a film that he feels accurately represents his sensibility.

"Even though it's a teeny movie and a little rough around the edges, the immediacy of it was what was so appealing," he said. "Sacrificing production value but not emotion or character, which are the things I really like in a movie. If you can have a movie that's sexy and funny, but surprisingly moving without condescending or being sappy in any way -- I'd love to see a movie like that. So I guess I made that."

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