If someone was to ever make a film about the human psyche in a marriage during a pandemic, then this would be a film to discuss in a graduate psychology class.
Doug Liman’s Locked Down is the new Marriage Story. This movie sums up 2020 in just two-hours perfectly! The crazy and irrational moments between cooped-up-couples, the awkward – yet very funny- zoom calls into the office, and even those chi
Anne Hathaway plays Linda Jarvis, a career woman who has the uncomfortable task of having to fire employees in the middle of a pandemic. If that’s not uncomfortable enough, she is in a mandatory lockdown with her ex-partner and confines herself to her room.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Paxton, a man whose life has been defined by a single moment many years ago and now finds himself at odds with life. He fancies himself a poet and will spontaneously break into a poetry reading for the entire neighborhood.
The forced cohabitation proves to be a challenge – especially when Linda (Hathaway) decided to end the relationship a few days prior – but when you mix a poetry and copious amounts of wine, cohabitation between these two gets very interesting.
Hathaway signed on to the film after only reading a partial script and quite frankly there is no one more fitting for the role. One look at the actress and the words elegant, classy and prudent come to mind. Yet she is playing a stressed-out, rising executive with a love for white wine and is on the verge of a meltdown – not to mention she has resorted to smoking to deal with the stress – her performance is enjoyable and quite relatable.
“It’s been such an odd year, so hard to even define, says Hathaway. “And the way Steve defined it, it just resonated with me. So, I was very happy to come on board. And the whole way that it was pitched to me that they were going to shoot, it just seemed insane. But in an insane year, it made sense.”
According to Liman, when he sent her the script he was expecting a no. “It’s not the normal process to send someone part of a script and expect them to commit,” says Liman. “I explained that we don’t want to make this when the pandemic is over, we want to make it while we’re still living it. And she said, ‘Let me save your breath here. I read it, I love it, I’m in.’”
Like Hathaway, Ejiofor also signed on after reading just a partial script. “Paxton has a lot of potential, but things didn’t really turn out his way. So, he’s found himself at this point, stuck in his work life, stuck in this relationship with a woman that he loves, but he knows she’s kind of falling out of love with him,” Ejiofor says. “So, he’s a man who needs a big change in his life. He’s lost some of his joie de vivre, some of his essence, over the years and needs something to kick start his way back into the world, back into love and back into sort of joy and excitement.”
Like many Americans and possibly everyone around the world, Paxton has lost his job – a job he probably never wanted to begin with but circumstances lead to that point – and has lost Linda as well. So he has taken to shouting poetry in the middle of his street and even samples the opiates he finds growing in his backyard.
Paxton is the ying to Lindas Yang; for while she seems to be on the verge of a breakdown, he tends to be able to reign and steady himself – even as Linda breaks into a monologue to justify her smoking and possibly suggests committing a jewel heist.
“Because it’s romantic and has a heist element to it and it’s comedic, it sits within a very sort of old-fashioned Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn kind of dynamic. You don’t get the opportunity to make a film like that a lot — one that is dialogue heavy and so character-driven but also really funny,” says Ejiofor. “I mean, it’s such an epic situation, obviously, within the pandemic. And we all understand the circumstances of being stuck with somebody. It doesn’t take much to project into the reality of what they’re going through.”
A reality much familiar to everyone as well, are zoom calls. Having to make yourself presentable – at least from the waist on up – and who can forget those unwanted cameos from children and pets.
“For the first and hopefully last time in my directing career, my conversation with the casting director was: let’s make a list of actors who have teenage children,” Liman says. “We were looking to cast Anne’s boss who has a teen that’s going to sabotage their Zoom with profanity in the background. And casting an actor with a teen was way safer than putting an adult actor and teen in a room together.”
Ben Stiller, Stephen Merchant, Ben Kingsley and Mindy Kaling all made cameos via a zoom call. Kingsley, played Paxton’s boss who has a very spiritual and zen outlook on life. Stiller, who plays Lindas boss – along with his teenage son who shares some very strong views about his current situation – make a hilarious yet tone-deaf cameo.
Dulé Hill and his wife Jazmyn Simon had to shoot at 3AM because they’re based in LA. Dan Ball who plays Toby, an employee on Linda’s team, has a toddler that delivered one of Liman’s favorite moments in Locked Down.
“That performance that I got from the toddler is the best child performance I’ve ever gotten in a movie. And I got it because the kid was acting at home with his father,” Liman continues. “He improvised: ‘Do you want to see my dinosaurs?’ He decided he wanted Anne to see his dinosaurs. My favorite, most powerful moment in the movie. I said I’m going to embrace, for better or worse, the technique of making the movie, filming people in their own homes.”
Locked Down not only takes place during a pandemic but it was completely created and brought to life in this environment – with adequate safety protocols in place. Years from now, maybe even sooner, many will be making movies about this time but few will actually be able to recreate the reality of it. It’s Liman’s attention to detail that makes this film seem almost like a home movie. When Linda (Hathaway) runs out to her front yard bang pots, it brings to question if this is to go along with her neighbors who are cheering on health workers – which is happening all around the world – or if it’s an erratic stress reliever.
It’s never an easy task to bring Locked Down to life even when there isn’t a pandemic. But 2020 presented a new challenge, one that truly required a team effort.
This has been a hell of a year,” says Hathaway. “I’m very excited to have gotten to take part in a piece of art that attempts to give us something to gather around and make sense of it. And if it becomes impossible to make sense of it, at least create shared recognition of the experience, a record of it. I feel very lucky that I got to be a part of something that is a record of this moment that none of us have ever experienced before. So, I just hope that it becomes something joyful. I think those of us that have been lucky enough this year, that’s what we woke up to. That sounds like a cliché, but life is short. And if you have joy available to you, you need to grab it with both hands and not let go.”
Locked Down premieres on HBO Max beginning tomorrow.