Who would be on your basketball dream team of Hollywood actresses? It’s an unusual question, but it’s one that film director Susan Seidelman had years to consider while putting together the financing for her latest movie “The Hot Flashes.”
Conceived in 2007, the screenplay, by Brad Hennig, is set in the tiny, God-fearing Texas town of Burning Bush, where countless citizens rely on a mobile mammogram unit for breast-cancer screenings. When the “boob bus” is forced to shut off its motor due to lack of funds, one of its leading advocates, former basketballer Beth Humphrey (Brooke Shields), decides to corral a team of her ex-colleagues, all of them now middle-aged, and take on the local high-school girl’s team in a charity series. It’s not long before aspiring politico Wanda Sykes, closeted lesbian Daryl Hannah, loose-moraled Virginia Madsen and former flower child Camryn Manheim are on board, hoping to prove that women of a certain age can still dunk – or at least hit their share of three-pointers and free throws – while saving a beloved institution.
The film provided Seidelman, who directed the local favorite “Boynton Beach Club” in 2005 based on her mother’s experiences as a widow, with the opportunity to explore a number of themes that are dear to her heart, resulting in an accessible sports comedy that may be her most widely distributed feature film since the 1980s. She spoke to Boca Raton about the movie, which opens Friday across South Florida.
When I googled the town of Burning Bush, all I found was some information about an ancient ghost town in Texas. Is your film’s town fictional, and is there any relation to this colony?
There’s no relation to that town, but there is a relationship to this small town where the screenwriter, Brad Hennig, grew up. That town was serviced by a local mammogram mobile. In a lot of small towns across America, there isn’t a local hospital nearby, so for a lot of women’s health issues, like mammography, there needs to be a mobile unit.
There’s a lot of stuff that this movie is about – breast cancer, menopause, starting over, basketball, homophobia. What was the original spark that inspired this story, that all of these sub-themes gathered around?
The original spark was that Brad was a high-school basketball player. He loved basketball, but his mom unfortunately did pass away from breast cancer. So I think that combining those two things was an inspiration for the original script. Brad sent me that script in the summer of 2007, so it’s been a while. We then worked on it together for several years to turn it into what it is onscreen – some of which was in the original, some of which was adjusted along the way.
For me, the reason I got involved with it initially and stuck with it for so long – because it took us a long time to get the financing – was because of those issues. And primarily for me, as a woman of a certain age, I felt like there weren’t that many movies out there that were talking about being middle-aged in all its serious but also comedic forms. This is a feel-good movie, not a heavy drama. But the challenge was to make a feel-good comedy but have some underlying serious themes going on there. Aging and middle-aged women, especially in Hollywood and studio movies, just disappear from screens, for the most part. They’re leading ladies up until a certain age, and then they’re invisible, and they’re lucky to get to play the leading lady’s mother. Or as they hit their late ‘50s, they get to play the leading lady’s grandmother.
To me, it’s unfortunate, because I think there is this big underserved audience out there for women – and men – of a certain age who are looking for stories that they can relate to, or aren’t just about teenagers smoking dope or being bit by vampires.
I know that for actresses especially, and this may be true more for the stage than the film, but a lot of actresses don’t like their ages to be known, because they don’t want to be looked over for younger roles. Did it give any of your actresses pause to play roles that are identified as menopausal?
I think in some way it was empowering, because you are that age. Everyone knows you’re that age. Or people know they were in movies in the 1980s, so they’re clearly not in their early 30s. To embrace it and say, this is cool, I’m middle-aged, and I’m playing a lead in a movie and I’m running around a basketball court … I think there was something liberating about that, and I was really proud that all the actresses embraced that. There might be some actresses that might turn down the role because they don’t want to be seen that way, but we all know how old everyone is these days. The other thing that appealed to me is when I first got the script and saw the title, “The Hot Flashes.” I kind of liked it and just went for it.
What was it like filming the sports scenes? Did you let the action on the court play out naturally, or did you direct all of the movement?
We did have three weeks before we started filming. We had a basketball training camp, and we brought in a woman who used to be the president of the WNBA. She brought in some professional players to help train the women. And one of the great things about that is that often, when you work on a movie, the actresses don’t even meet each other until a few days before you’re about to start filming. But here, these actresses had a full week way ahead of time to learn the sport and to hang out with each other in New Orleans, which is a fun place to hang out. And there’s nothing more humbling and interesting than having to learn a challenging physical sport from scratch, that you haven’t played before or haven’t played in many, many years. So there was no room for any prima donna behavior. These women were rehearsing eight hours a day for the entire week – no makeup, sweating, exhausted, running up and down a court. I think that kind of challenge also took away any ego and really made them bond. It forged a genuine friendship between them onscreen as well as off.
In terms of the filming, we were filming on that court to do the three big set-pieces – games one, two and three. That took us six or seven days to film all that stuff; again, really exhausting. And initially, we thought about sports doubles, and we ended up deciding not to use any because the women had gotten really good, and at times when they’re not good, it was OK, because they weren’t supposed to be always good. And it was a point of pride for the actresses; they wanted to do their own work. There’s no CGI.
Did any of the stars show up with basketball talent?
They were all semi-athletic. Three out of the five of them are 5-10 to 6 feet – Brooke, Camryn and Daryl Hannah are tall women who could play basketball, but who hadn’t played in a while. But Wanda loves basketball. She follows basketball, so even if she hadn’t played in many years, she was a real lover of the sport. She brought that to the table.
Do you have any personal connection to breast cancer?
I don’t. Various cancers have run in my family. My mother or grandmother did not have breast cancer, and I hope I don’t have it either. But everyone knows somebody who has breast cancer. Now, with all the new testing, and with the attention Angelina Jolie has brought to the whole issue, every woman and all the men who love those women are all connected to breast cancer.
I don’t pay much attention to the MPAA, but are you disappointed this film got saddled with an inexplicable R rating?
I am shocked. There’s some language and jokes and sex, but it’s so good-natured, this movie. And the message is so important. I think the MPAA really needs to be rethought, to have movies that are about ugly subjects and nasty people and have no positive message or value and have them get a PG-13 for whatever reasons. You make a sex joke and it’s suddenly an R, and you shoot up a village and it’s still a PG as long as you don’t say a dirty word. It’s just crazy the way we rate sexual language.