It was once 2014, and director Anne Fletcher was once busy at paintings in New Orleans on her Reese Witherspoon–Sofía Vergara two-hander, Hot Pursuit, when manufacturing fashion designer Nelson Coates got here flying onto the set to display her a industry newsletter touting Fletcher’s good fortune as the highest feminine director of studio motion pictures.
The information was once deeply unsettling.
“I was working on my fifth movie. I had no clue that was a reality. It upset me tremendously,” mentioned Fletcher, right through a up to date chat close to her house in Burbank, California. “There are many extra ladies which can be so a lot more proficient and smarter. There will have to be different ladies which can be status subsequent to me—Nancy Meyers? Nora Ephron? It made no sense to me. It nonetheless doesn’t.”
For Fletcher, her occupation has been not anything in need of astonishing. In an business the place 80 p.c of feminine administrators simplest make one movie of their occupation, Fletcher has made six since transitioning from choreographer to director with the 2006 dance film Step Up. Fletcher has labored with ability as various as Barbra Streisand (The Guilt Trip), Sandra Bullock (The Proposal), and Katherine Heigl (27 Dresses). Though her motion pictures are by no means box-office bonanzas—The Proposal was once her highest-grossing film with $164 million on the home field workplace—they’re frothy, impossible to resist rom-coms which can be perennials on the planet of cable repeats, and feature grew to become her into one of the commercially viable administrators operating as of late. Yet, as a dancer who first got here of age in Hollywood within the 80s and 90s dancing for more than a few awards presentations and picture units, Fletcher by no means noticed herself relating to gender. She didn’t get requested about loss of parity within the director’s chair till The Proposal was once debuting in 2009.
“I was so stumped, because it was that far away from my consciousness,” mentioned Fletcher. “When you go to a set as a dancer/choreographer/whatever, there are men and women all doing their jobs and working toward [one goal] . . . I didn’t know how to answer the question in the right way. I didn’t want to alienate a gender. I didn’t want to alienate people who’ve hired me. But there is a genuine thing that is going on, and I’m interested in being a part of that.”
Fletcher’s resolution has been to stay operating, and placing sure pictures of girls into the arena. Her newest effort, Dumplin,’ stars Patti Cake$ lead Danielle MacDonald because the heavyset, Dolly Parton-loving 17-year-old daughter of a former attractiveness queen (Jennifer Aniston), who indicators up for her mom’s attractiveness festival as a type of protest in opposition to her body-conforming beliefs.
“The whole reason I did this movie was for girls,” mentioned Fletcher. “When I was growing up, there were no movies telling us we were O.K. just the way we were. Girls, women, are so impressionable to society’s narrative, whether it’s school, friends, the Internet—they influence us, and we take it on as our truth. Then we grow up with all these lies embedded in our bodies . . . If you feel like you’re on the outside, this story is meant to reach you.”
The movie additionally touches on topics close to and costly to Fletcher: drag queens, attractiveness pageants, and pop-star obsessions. Where MacDonald’s protagonist Willowdean carries a torch for Parton, Fletcher nonetheless refers to the past due musical icon Prince as her “husband.”
She additionally says she’s “in love” with Aniston’s personality, Rosie, a tightly wound ex-pageant queen suffering together with her personal physique symbol as well as to her daughter’s. Fletcher reminisces in regards to the first time she and Aniston, additionally a manufacturer at the movie, met to speak about the film.
“We ended up crying, because we love her flaws and we identify with her,” Fletcher mentioned. “It’s our story as women trying to fit into the norms of society. [Rosie] was born like her sister, heavyset, and she didn’t have the confidence, the security, to own it and to participate in the world as a big person. She got skinny and conformed to the norms, and then went a step further and entered a pageant to say, ‘I made the right choice.’”
Dumplin,’ according to the best-selling ebook by way of Julie Murphy, is a film about feminine friendship and self-acceptance, however it’s additionally a Fletcher movie, so together with a romantic arc was once crucial. Yet the candy courting between Willowdean and Bo (How to Eat Fried Worms’ Luke Benward), the hunky prepare dinner on the diner the place Willowdean works, was once a lot more about declaring Willowdean than making it right into a quest for her. According to Fletcher’s screenwriter and manufacturer, Kristin Hahn, (Cake), no guy was once going to save Fletcher’s heroine.
“[Fletcher] is a perfectionist, and before prep she started asking a ton of questions about the script,” mentioned Hahn. “We had seven story lines, and we were calibrating how much to give each one. In the book, Bo’s story line is given a lot of prominence. But Anne was adamant that the most important love story is Willowdean’s love story with herself. Anything that took you too far out, we needed to pare back. I re-wrote the script a bunch of times, and finished the day before we started shooting.”
Netflix will unencumber the independently made movie Friday, marking Fletcher’s first foray into streaming and virtual filmmaking, and the primary movie she’s made with out studio backing. (She was once by no means extra terrified than when she and her manufacturers held patrons’ screenings previous this 12 months and Fletcher concept, “What if no one buys the film?”)
The skimpy $13 million-budget undertaking required Fletcher to transfer to virtual from movie, a layout that, she says, “is not nice for us ladies.” But she didn’t let it diminish her enthusiasm. According to Hahn, Fletcher’s actual ability comes out on set, rallying her workforce with foolish dance strikes in between takes, and making sure that her younger solid was once at all times relaxed, particularly with the rest refined or delicate.
“What I learned about Anne is she has such a nurturing, maternal love for young people in general,” mentioned Hahn. “She respects their vulnerability and takes care of you. She had the wherewithal when filming a kissing scene [between Bo and Willowdean] to not have everyone on the set and to be respectful. She really got it.”
Fletcher additionally will get Netflix’s achieve, particularly when it comes to the streamer’s run of good fortune previous this previous summer time with romantic comedies like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and focused on the young-adult target audience. She’s additionally enthused by way of the girl-power wave that swept during the midterm elections not too long ago, and what it method for the ones most often at the outdoor.
“I’ve never been more proud and excited about the future for us. And it’s not about, ‘Oh, they’re going to change the story for women.’ It’s not that,” she mentioned. “It’s—we’re now a part of the conversation.”
More Great Stories from Vanity Fair
— The supercalifragilistic Lin-Manuel Miranda
— The Golden Globes are quirky—and that’s a excellent factor
— How The Sopranos gave us Trump coaching wheels
— Rocko’s Modern Life was once even loonier than you concept
— The 12 months’s very best films, in accordance to our critic
Looking for extra? Sign up for our day by day Hollywood e-newsletter and not pass over a tale.