'pink trailer' is a nostalgia-soaked short film about being in your 20s

Mary Neely's absurdist comedic thriller stars two best friends, one creepy neighbor, and a house that will transport you back to 1991.

by Hannah Ongley
Aug 6 2018, 4:22pm

“Everyone thinks that they’re teenagers in it,” director Mary Neely says of the two IRL best friends who star in her latest short film, Pink Trailer. The fact that they’re in their 20s makes the film’s premise even more darkly absurd. Lucy (Macey Isaacs) and Julie (Jenny Leiferman) are spending their summer avoiding responsibilities while holed up in Lucy’s grandma’s house, a flouncy pink 90s time capsule filled with creepy dolls, plastic flower arrangements, Pop-Tarts, and a game of Guess Who? Boredom turns to fear when Lucy realizes she’s out of antidepressants, but can’t go to CVS thanks to a creepy neighbor, Benny, who lurks around the property hoping to score a hangout session. The only real indication of the girls’ age is a phone call from Lucy’s grandma, who tells her granddaughter she’ll soon have to get a real job, in between ranting about devil cards. (“Hi hon! Just got done with my tarot cards workshop. I’ve had it with that moley man I told you about — you know, the son of a bitch who said I’d never develop my sixth sense?”) Watching the girls enjoy tea and pink-frosted Pop-Tarts while playing X-rated confession games feels delightfully incongruous. But it's also a perfect metaphor for being a complicated 20-something who's still figuring her shit out.

Neely was brought to direct Pink Trailer, written by Isaacs and Leiferman, after being connected through a mutual friend. The film premiered at SXSW last year and is now available to watch online. i-D talked to Neely about mental health, musical theater, and growing up in a side of Hollywood nobody really sees.

What is up with this house? The decor is absolutely insane.
That’s Macey’s husband’s grandma’s place. Macey and Jenny went there to visit the grandma, just out of familial obligation. It’s in San Bernardino, so when you drive onto the retirement center lot with all of these little trailers, it’s like a gated community. You step into this woman’s home and it’s like you’re transported into another world. It’s exactly like that in real life. We didn’t do anything to it.

That’s amazing. Have you seen the episode of Queer Eye with that guy who inherited his grandma’s house from the 70s?
Yes! It’s very similar.

Tell me how you wanted to approached the topic of mental health in Pink Trailer .
Jenny and Macey have both had their own journeys with mental health. That was written into the script that I saw. The thing with Macey forgetting her antidepressants and wanting to leave the house to go to CVS. I read it and I was immediately struck. I’ve had my own journeys with mental health too, and I really see the two characters as different sides of myself: Macey, who wants to get her prescription refilled and is actively wanting to live with this and figure it out, versus Jenny, who gets so terrified of the outside world that she doesn’t want to leave the house. I can relate to both of those characters. I always had that in my other work too, where mental health has been part of it, but the work isn’t necessarily about it. I love the day to day nuances of things.

The film is very feminine visually, and is made by mostly women. What has it been like bringing it into traditionally male-dominated film festivals?
I thought back to the woman who owns the trailer. The whole reason why this trailer exists is because when her husband died, she decided to redecorate her living space exactly how she wanted it. She kind of reclaimed this space as her own and made it like her paradise, essentially. It’s curated by her in this amazing way. I love that idea so much. Sometimes that feels like the experience of going to film festivals and being part of this industry. I had my first short film in festivals as well, and I’ve been so happy to see that this film has gotten into better festivals, but I have very mixed feelings about being at festivals. On one hand, I’ve met so many incredible people and seen such inspiring work, but on the other hand, I’ve experienced super sexist stuff from being at festivals.

What are the main influences on your work, either from film or outside of it?
I grew up being obsessed with theatre. I would listen to soundtracks and watch movie musicals until the DVD broke. I did plays as a little kid, and that really defined my life for a long time. My parents both brought these different cinematic experiences to my life. My dad is a huge classic movie buff, he loves old Hollywood, and he’s basically a walking history book for all that stuff. He’s 100% happy sitting at home and watching the same movies over and over again. My mom loves the communal experience of going to the theater and seeing a big action movie or a spy thriller and screaming with the audience with a giant thing of popcorn. I got to see what movies mean to different people and how they bring that into themselves.

I didn’t find my own niche until I moved away and went to college, because I was so obsessed with theater, and movies didn’t have as much effect on me as theater did. Then I took a Danish film history class in college and it completely changed my perspective on film and movie making. Specifically the Dogme 95 movement. These filmmakers created a manifesto of these really specific things, and it almost is like theater. The rules that they created are so based in realism and in finding spaces that fit the film. It has a theatrical element that I didn’t realize could be incorporated into film. So I kind of became obsessed with Scandinavian film after that.

Why is Los Angeles such a constant presence in your work?
I’ve just had a really interesting experience living here. I never left. I had lived in 13 different houses by the time I graduated high school. The thing about LA is that you can switch neighborhoods and you feel like you’re in a completely different city. The landscape is so varied. My dad was a taxi driver in LA in the 70s, so growing up he would drive me, this huge history dude, and he knew the city like the back of his hand. He would tell me the stories that he had from when he was a cab driver and it colored the city for me in this way. My mom was a commercial producer, and my dad was an actor, when I was really young. They both stopped being in the industry when I was in elementary school but all their friends were crew people — costume designers, assistant directors, struggling writers, and actors who did $0.99 seat theater plays on Santa Monica Boulevard. I grew up knowing the industry in this certain way but it wasn’t glamorous.

Tell me about your web series Wacko Smacko. How autobiographical was that project and are you planning to develop it further?
I had a whole journey with Wacko Smacko, and I’m not quite sure that it’s done yet. My first short and my web series were very autobiographical. I did so many jobs on both of those things, then I had this response of people who were really interested in it, and a lot of that interest was very money-based. It was hard for me to grapple with something that’s so personal and so vulnerable, and people wanting to use that as a springboard to make a lot of money off of. I had to take a step back because it was too much for me. The way that everything had gone down post- Wacko Smacko, I was like, “All the stories are true about Hollywood, everyone is so obsessed with money!” I nearly killed my own spirit by making Wacko Smacko — I put all my money and energy into that series. I don’t want to drain myself like that again. I was really happy when I got to do Pink Trailer because it reinvigorated me. I wrote my first feature, which is a musical, and now I’m going to make that.

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mary neely