Nicole Delaney's short films manage to straddle the divide between deeply personal projects and blockbusters. She's made short films about a girl searching for love and a cure to her paper fetish and a man who finds companionship after his wife's passing by learning to use the internet. These characters, the director explains, all "deal with different anxieties about what it's like to be alone." The same could be said about the protagonist of the rising 31-year-old director's latest project: a woman completely obsessed with losing her virginity at the end of the world.
A native Angeleno, Delaney recently found herself back in her hometown after almost a decade in NYC attending NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study (where she created her own major called "The Art of Storytelling") and earning an MFA from Columbia film school. While working for a Netflix showrunner back in L.A., she suddenly realized, "I have to make something or I'm going to go crazy." And so, the film YOYO was born.
YOYO debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival and stars Martin Starr and Sophie von Haselberg (who happens to be Bette Midler's daughter) as the last two people on earth. Caroline (played by von Haselberg) is plagued by her virgin status. So much so that she hasn't even bothered to leave her apartment in search of remaining life. "She's so focused on losing her virginity," Delaney explains, "that she's missing out on processing the rest of what she's experiencing."
Francis (played by Starr), on the other hand, has become a nihilist after losing his wife to whatever mysterious disaster has befallen Earth. He takes on an almost professorial role in Caroline's world, albeit a deeply melancholy and censorious one, pointing out that life and love are about far more than the physical act.
As for the larger context of the story, Delaney adds, "I think, overall, I wanted the film to convey that human connection is complicated and it's inevitable whether you want it or not. One [character] is lucky to be alive, but the other wishes that they could have been whisked away with the rest of humanity. I think the ultimate thing I connected with is: is life worth living if there's no one else to live it with you?" Both characters grapple with this question up until the very final moments of the film.
With YOYO, Delaney wanted to explore the topic of virginity as a rite of passage, something she could relate to having lost her own a little later than most of her friends. "I think I tell this story better than anyone because it is my story," she says. In America, she explains, virginity is still that definitive marker between childhood and womanhood, "still that thing where it's like, 'Oh, I'm in a different echelon of human existence because I fucked someone. I can have a conversation about sex now.'" But, in the process of writing the film, she realized that while these stakes might be high for teenagers, they wouldn't be high enough for the average viewer. "It finally occurred to me that the world has to end," she says.
Despite the film's ambitious vision, Delaney explains, "we shot this for nothing. It was a lot of favors, like my mom made the meals. It was that kind of run-and-gun." Since she was also working full-time as a development coordinator at a production company at the time, she and her mostly female crew chose to shoot over Labor Day weekend, which provided them with an appropriately empty Los Angeles as a backdrop. The eerily quiet city was perfect for capturing the end of humanity on a budget.
YOYO was "born out of that need to just make something. If it was bad, it was my fault, and if it was good, it was my fault," Delaney says. At the end of the day, however, she believes "YOYO is a story about finding human connection, period." It's also about the many ways we handle the traumas of life, both large and small. "Everyone is entitled to deal and mourn, or not deal, in their own personal and specific way. And I think that's what Sophie's character is fighting for. She's missed out on this huge chunk of her life and so she's focusing on [virginity] because it's what she can wrap her head around. Martin's character has gotten to experience these beautiful things and like she says, 'Why don't I get to have my story?' We're all looking for our story."
What stories will Delaney tell next? She's currently writing on a Netflix comedy and developing her own animated show for TBS, with Elizabeth Olsen attached to star and Dan Harmon and Lesley Arfin signed on to executive produce. But given that her first three projects have tackled love, loss, and the apocalypse, it's anyone's guess what the subject matter will be.
Text Emily Kirkpatrick