If you’re a parent, you’ll know that kids have the greatest capacity to surprise you when you least expect it, especially when they are set in the most challenging or even harrowing of circumstances. While true in life, in my observation, it also makes for the most compelling stories. The latest film from Redbox Entertainment, Becky, is a prime example of what I’m talking about, and I was able to chat with Joel McHale about his role as Becky’s dad, Jeff, about it.
Here’s the premise of the film: Becky is a thirteen-year-old girl who tragically lost her mother to a long and debilitating illness. There’s already a sense of trauma in this kid’s life and she goes from a gentle, art-loving child to a dark and angry kid, unable to process her feelings. The fact that her father, played by Joel, wants to marry again after a year opens a new level of anger in this kid. When Jeff invites his fiancée, Kayla, and her son to the cottage Becky’s mother loved, it creates more hard feelings.
But when escaped convicts, led by a white supremacist named Dominick (played by Kevin James of The King of Queens,) invade their cottage looking for a stashed key, Becky’s rage becomes her only weapon in protecting herself and her family.
I asked Joel what role he played in helping his fictional daughter in the film rise to the occasion. He started out with his appreciation for Lulu Wilson, who plays the title role of Becky in the film.
“Well, you have Lulu … who IS a movie star, who can carry five shows all at the same time. She is truly gifted and wonderful,” Joel began. “As I started looking into this dad, I think he wants Becky—after all the crap that’s happened in her life, and now with me hooking up with somebody else—to just shove stuff under the rug with the idea of not confronting what’s going on in her brain. He doesn’t really take her into consideration. So he just wants her to be happy, but he doesn’t take the necessary steps for that to happen. I think, as father and daughter, we were opposites.”
Opposition brings out struggle and from struggle, we see what we are made of. In Becky’s case, she is literally on her own as she has to process her own feelings. Jeff doesn’t know how to help her because he is trying to find his own happiness, and by doing so creates the conditions for Becky’s character to develop further throughout the film. However, he shows his love by trying to protect his daughter, fiancée, and her son from a racist convict and his gang.
“It has always been my fantasy to get stabbed through the gut by Paul Blart, Mall Cop!” Joel jokes with me when he describes a scene where Dominick tries to get Becky to reveal her hiding place in the woods by brutally impaling Jeff with a red-hot marshmallow prong. While Jeff knows where his daughter is, he stays silent for her. “I think our love for each other comes out in Becky’s revenge, which is for me, but because we have such a complicated relationship, things got real in the movie.”
In terms of ‘real’, the film is intensely violent. Becky goes through a number of emotional transitions, based on the underlying principle that this is a trauma-suffering kid who is already mourning the death of her mother. Of course, while the illness isn’t stated, it’s implied that Becky’s mother suffered a long illness. The effects of that upon a family are devastating, especially when the illness is a terminal one. To watch a loved one suffer illness is torturous in itself, but watching loved ones get tortured is a trauma unto itself that is bound to catalytically transform a normal kid into the vengeance-filled weapon of doom that Becky becomes.
The torture of Becky’s dad is that catalyst that transforms her rage into revenge purpose, explicitly described by directors Jonathan Millot and Cary Murnion and writers Nick Morris, Ruckus Skye, and Lane Skye. Joel talked a little about the script, basing his opinion on previous work by Millot and Murnion.
“The script was really good. But it needs to go further than that. My agent sent me this film, Bushwick, and that movie is fantastic. It’s on my list of all-time favourite films with Dave Bautista and Brittany Snow. So, I loved their work. But when I read the script and saw that a thirteen-year-old girl pops a man’s eye out, I knew they could pull that off.”
Heroic characters need a villain to pit themselves against. In this case, Dominick, played by Kevin James, is a harsh and ruthless creature bereft of compassion. As Jeff’s fiancée, Kayla (played by Amanda Brugel of Kim’s Convenience) is a woman of colour, Dominick’s racism is aroused and makes him a truly reprehensible figure to hate. His cruelty is intense. Joel had this to say about Kevin’s performance.
“They cast Kevin James as the head white supremacist, which was a really good casting. Unexpected, and he’s great in it. It brought a whole level of chemistry to the film.”
But every kid needs love. Jeff’s love for Becky is unconditional. While their relationship is difficult, Jeff and Becky still have that connection to each other that manifests itself in various ways throughout the film He forgives her for shoplifting; he gives her space to sort out feelings when he announces that he and Kayla are engaged to be married. Becky immediately runs to her fort in the forest surrounding the cottage. It’s this place of refuge that actually saves Becky from initial discovery and allows her that freedom to strike back at her family’s captors.
“I love seeing Lulu running around in the woods, this kid against bad-ass killers. She’s such a wonderful terrible to watch. Such a movie star,” Joel continued.
It’s that sense of unconditional love that gives Becky the resolve to steel herself against hardened criminals like Dominick and his gang and become the hero she needs to be.
There is a point in this film when Becky switches from self-defense to unadulterated revenge. That’s the motivation her father gives her and it’s an unpredictable one, given that the odds against this 13-year-old girl who improvises weapons out of art supplies are five hardened criminals to her one. Spurred on by the harm done to her dad, she knows her terrain, her assets and she uses them well.
“The boat scene definitely has to be my favourite one,” Joel adds with a grin.
Off-camera, Joel had this to say about his connection with Lulu, underlying the importance of making sure you have a good relationship with your kid.
“Lulu’s dad has as much as a same sense of humour as I do. Lulu’s like ‘Oh, it’s like hanging out with my dad’. So, they are deeply, obviously connected. I have the same joking vibe. He was on set every day and he’s a great dad.”
This is a film that every parent should take heart from. Despite its extremism, there are a few lessons to be learned here. First, you need a strong connection with your kid. Next, as long as you have given your child a sense of unconditional love, space they can call their own, and a belief that they can independently overcome obstacles, there’s no way that they can fail in life.
Just remember that sometimes kids need to grow into bad-asses.
Becky is available online and on-demand.