Jewish Director and Writer Susan Sandler talks to JLife about her new film Julia Scotti: Funny That Way and her rom-com classic Crossing Delancey.
In the comedy boom of the 1980s, Rick Scotti was a busy guy – appearing in clubs across the country, on bills with Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld – when he came to the powerful realisation that nothing felt right. Rick’s true awakening at age 47 led to a new identity as Julia Scotti. Susan met Julia after one of her shows when she was contemplating telling her life story, she said: “I found her in the best possible way. A friend of mine, who is also a comedian put together a comedy show in Nantucket, and I saw her on stage. I loved what I saw. We hung out afterwards and I was working with Jane on putting together a one woman show which is what a lot of comedians do when they’re moving from their stand-up sets to doing more theatrical work. I’d worked with another comedian and she hinted that maybe Julia was interested in doing a one woman show.
“I started to hear more and more during conversations we had long into the night about what was going on in her life. That she returned to comedy after she transitioned, that she had been out of touch with her children for 15 years. The pieces were all there. As a storyteller all my nerve-endings screamed ‘this wants to be a documentary’.”
With Sandler’s previous writing success Crossing Delancey, the play which she would later adapt into a screenplay for the 1988 rom-com, Susan knew a thing or two about telling life stories: “Crossing Delancey was heavily autobiographical. Especially in showing my relationship with my Bubbe which was very, very close.
“And you know what, at the centre of that story is that grandparents have a pure wish for their grandchildren that they will be happy. They see through all of this pressure about professional success, climbing a social ladder, the urge to make money that we might have. Grandparents don’t want any of that – they just want happiness for their grandchildren.”
Julia Scotti expressed in her story the devastation she felt for being removed from her children’s lives when everything else, including her gender identity and her marriage, was going wrong she felt her love for her children was the only thing which kept her afloat. Susan wanted to draw upon that re-connection with family in the documentary saying: “I was very grateful to Julia’s children for being so open. The separation part of their story is very heart-breaking, but very joyful that the film captures the return. The beginning and rebuilding of this relationship and all of the things that come from that. And letting people know that living your truth is where happiness is.
“The heart-breaking thing is that they were living just 15 minutes away during that time. So, it wasn’t like she was living on the other side of the country, they were living in the same community, but estranged. Julia would learn about them, as she says in the film, through family members who would see them and bring her things like Emma’s graduation photos and their view of events – all told through Julia’s mother or cousin who were in touch with them. But there was never direct contact.”
Thankfully, Julia’s story comes to a happy ending, which Susan was happy to portray: “But how they opened up and reconnected! They were extraordinary, her son Dan was very connected to her through his love of comedy. For the time of their estrangement, he became focused on doing comedy, being a sketch writer – almost as if he was genetically drawn to it. There’s a deep bond there.
“I think Emma had a more difficult time coming back to understanding their history, that’s understandable in many ways. But both do welcome Julia back into their lives.
The film was released on Transgender Visibility Day on 31st March.
The film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime UK, click the link below to watch!
WATCH NOW: https://linktr.ee/sandlercompany