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‘Someone Great’ Director Talks Fact and Fiction in the Netflix Anti-Rom-Com

Jennifer Kaytin Robinson on how music journalism and her love of LCD Soundsystem inspired her debut film

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Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, director of Netflix's music-centric film 'Someone Great,' reveals what she made up and what she didn't.

Sarah Shatz/NETFLIX

“I can’t believe everyone is sobbing,” Jennifer Kaytin Robinson says. “The main takeaway from everyone so far is that they are broken and sobbing. I hate to say I’m just scrolling through my phone and smiling at all these sad people on the internet, but, I mean.”

The 31-year-old writer and director made her film debut this weekend with Netflix’s Someone Great starring Gina Rodriguez and Lakeith Stanfield and has, for lack of a better turn of phrase, struck a chord with audiences. Someone Great follows a young music journalist who’s just broken up with her boyfriend and wants to have a last night of revelry with her closest friends before moving across the country for her new job at Rolling Stone. It’s a fête to friendship, an elegy to love lost and a send-off of the traditional romantic comedy genre all in one. Robinson spoke with Rolling Stone on what’s fact and what’s fiction in the film — which is based largely off of her personal experiences as a music lover and former music writer in New York.

A burning question: Why did you set Rolling Stone‘s office in San Francisco when it closed more than a decade ago?
I keep getting negged for this! I know there’s no San Francisco office of Rolling Stone. I know. But that is my nod to Almost Famous, a movie that is not only one of my favorites but one that has inspired me sonically in so many different ways. The way they were able to use music to push the emotion — I think that’s so brilliant. So the San Francisco thing is my little plug, or Easter egg or heart-eye emoji, to Almost Famous. I had to do it.

Another fun media nod in the film was when Jenny, fresh out of college, says she only gets paid $20 a post as a writer at Complex but it doesn’t matter because she’s following her dreams.
That is real. In 2011, when I was writing for [music website] Pigeons and Planes, Pigeons hadn’t been bought by Complex yet and I legit, very real, got paid $20 a post. I wrote some of my favorite things there. I wrote about Tove Lo, about Sam Smith’s first show at Mercury Lounge, about Lorde’s first show at [New York venue Le Poisson Rouge]. I’d be up until four in the morning on things like Indie Shuffle and the depths of SoundCloud scouring for new stuff — the best thing was finding an amazing song with 70 streams and then being like, ‘I did it.’ That was my whole life.

You’ve talked about how the title of the film was inspired by LCD Soundsystem, but the band’s songs don’t feature in the film itself.
Yes, that was my white whale! I will go out to this man in everything I do and I will wear him down, but James Murphy did deny the use of “All My Friends.” I get it. It’s a mainstream Netflix movie and that’s not really the vibe of LCD. I mean, three songs started charting off the film this weekend and there’s a good chance “All My Friends” would have been a fourth, and as a longtime fan, If I’d been responsible for LCD Soundsystem going too mainstream… I’d have to go into hiding, so you know, maybe this was the right move. But there are Easter eggs all over the movie, like a neon sign in the background that says “WHERE ARE YOUR FRIENDS TONIGHT.” I snuck him in any way I could. But he denied use on “All My Friends,” which was heartbreaking.

Were the venues and events based on things from your own time in New York?
It’s a very inherently New York movie. I wrote the first script in 2015 and the band they were going to see was actually LCD Soundsystem, playing their reunion show at Webster Hall. I wrote that before they reunited, and then they reunited and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m Nostradamus.’ We ended up making the show Neon Classic, a music festival, because Netflix got on board and wanted to make the scope of the concert a little bigger — and also I got to create a fake music festival, which is a personal dream.

“I do think this is a romantic comedy and I think we need to broaden the scope of what romance means.”

Someone Great has been called both a rom-com and an anti-rom-com. What feels most true to you?
It’s incredible to know you’ve touched people in that way. To know the heart of the movie is reaching people in that way has been very profound and very special. I’m good with all the different descriptors. I’d say it’s a subverted rom-com where the rom isn’t com. We tend to look at the romantic comedy through the lens of “love between a man and a woman,” and I think the romance is between Jenny and her friends, Nate and Jenny, all the women and themselves. So I do think this is a romantic comedy and I think we need to broaden the scope of what romance means.

Can you share what projects you’re working on next?
I can’t — I’m working on a couple things and they’re all in development stages. But I can tell you one thing: I want to do a movie with a bit of a throwback Nineties vibe, and I want a soundtrack of Nineties songs covered by new artists. A full, Cruel Intentions-style soundtrack of all the best jams from the 1990s covered by artists today. That is my new cinematic musical dream. Music is in everything I do. It’s always been that thing for me, the thing that’s shaped me and been with me in all the defining moments of my life. I don’t know if there was one inciting incident for my love affair with music. It feels like it’s always been there.

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