The Girl and Her Trust: Sean Price Williams on “The Sweet East” 

By Adam Nayman

Spring break forever! Waylaid in Washington, DC on a class trip, freshman Lillian (Talia Ryder) pledges allegiance to the flag, blanks on Upton Sinclair’s name, ignores several famous stone memorials, and engages in some rote debauchery: ass-shaking, glass-raising, freestyling, cum-flinging. “The South shall rise again!” bellows blonde dumbbell Troy (Jack Irv), terrorizing a member of another visiting group. These Harmony-ous antics are played out, and the filmmakers behind The Sweet East know it. (Note that, contra the Indiewire review from Cannes, the film has a screenwriter—Nick Pinkerton, a film critic, programmer, and author making his feature debut—while the director is the well-known cinematographer Sean Price Williams). And so, no more than five minutes after introducing their disaffected heroine—and gifting her a solo, semi-diegetic musical number sung softlyover the opening credits— Pinkerton and Williams plunge Ryder’s feline-eyed cipher into a cartoony QAnon intrigue: why, if it isn’t Andy Milonakis as a paranoid and heavily armed 4Chan truther, storming the capital in search of Clintonian sex traffickers! This wayward Pizzagater’s bullet-riddled arrival offers Lillian an opportunity to cut bait, but not before encountering scattered evidence of an actual sex ring being run out of a chain-restaurant basement: close-up on a forlorn, abandoned tricycle at the lip of some Gothic dungeon. It’s a broad but fleeting sight gag that positions Williams’ solo feature debut as a particularly knowing and contemporary provocation: ain’t I, it implores, a stinker?

For some critics and film-cultural commentators, The Sweet East arrives to the Quinzaine smelling of something pungent: its credits list as an executive producer one Jimmy Kaltreider, as per Politico a top aide to Peter Thiel, who himself once upon a time helped another gifted, up-and-coming director make his own politically ambivalent feature debut (Thank You For Nothing, Peter). As Williams says below, treating The Sweet East like a kind of ground zero for right-wing patronage in the history of American cinema—independent or otherwise—is selective and ahistorical to say the least, but the strident liberal-baiting on display still warrants comment. It places Williams’ film plausibly alongside Dasha Nekrasova’s The Scary of 61st (2021) in the vanguard of what somebody with more skin in the game (and a stronger constitution) than myself might call “Dimes Square cinema.” For all its flaws—including and especially its deliberately trollish tone—Nekrasova’sEpstein-themed satire channelled a certain post-millennial savvy in between its naughty nods to Polanski and Kubrick, limning the seductive, compulsory solipsism of a small, weirdly influential (and easily influenced) New York media cohort steadily K-holing itself into a state of ecstasy. The image of leggy, deadpan Betsey Brown writhing in desirous Adjani-style ecstasy beneath a junior-high-style shrine to Prince Andrew split the difference between Juvenal and juvenilia just finely enough to be funny—provocation as masturbation, grabbing herself (and the haters) by the you-know-what and smirking back at them with eyes wide shut.

Brown also appears in The Sweet East, alongside her notorious Actors (2021) co-star/party monster Peter Vack as, respectively, “Betsy Ross Girl” and “George Washington Boy” (“Bible class begins at 6 p.m.,” chirps the latter in Founding Fathers drag to passerby near the Washington monument). That both are onscreen too quickly to register as presences offers a skeleton key towards unlocking Williams’ and Pinkerton’s deceptively scattershot travelogue, which looks very much like an epic that’s been whittled into fighting trim. In the press kit, the writer and director refer to their film as a picaresque, which scans insofar as The Sweet East is swift, horizontal, and digressive, gliding swiftly across a geographical and sociological topography it treats as a playground—with an emphasis, implied from the title on down, that it’s mapping (and sacramentalizing) its own Tri-State Area home turf. 

At its core, the picaresque is a satirical (and scatological) genre in which the protagonist is eternally falling into fresh peril. (From Keetje Tippel [1975]through Flesh + Blood [1985], Showgirls [1995], and Black Book [2006], Paul Verhoeven is probably our supreme picaresque filmmaker, although you could also make a case for the Farrellys.) Like any good picara, Lillian is by turns obstinate, intrepid, and suggestible, but ultimately defined by her restless sense of motion. “It’s important to be as mobile as possible,” says one of the quasi-Antifa do-gooders who briefly adopt her in Washington, and Lillian, who absorbs and regurgitates extant rhetoric like no movie character since Jeffrey Lebowski, takes the advice to heart. Her boredom also makes her ideologically promiscuous: arriving at a neo-Nazi rally with her new leftist pals to crack heads, she ends up going home with the bloviating, tenured literature prof Lawrence (Simon Rex), who’s got a thing for lepidoptery, white nationalism, and underage girls. With the resourcefulness of a silent-movie heroine, Lillian (think Gish) sizes her host up as a hapless neuter and strategically places herself on a pedestal as the patient, pliant, and untouchable “Annabel”—her new moniker a conjoined nod to both Nabokov and Poe, whose 1909 Biograph biopic (directed by no less a problematic auteur than D.W. Griffith, and starring his own young wife Linda Arvidson) is shown in excerpt, with Lawrence rapt and his houseguest glazed over. “At least they figured out how to make movies less boring than this,” Lillian/Annabel says blithely.

Rex’s Lawrence doesn’t agree: in his opinion, the pictures have gotten small. Back in 2021, Rex (like Milonakis, a Y2K-era MTV axiom) made his acting comeback in Sean Baker’s Red Rocket, where he inhabited and amplified his character’s hustling, big-dicked fecklessness until it signified into a halfway persuasive Trump allegory; he’s equally good here as a gallant, impotent Svengali who couches nostalgic-slash-reactionary rhetoric in aesthetics. Because he gets so much of Pinkerton’s best dialogue—droning disquisitions on literature, politics and cinema, as well as the character’s own tragic affliction of “vainglory”—it’s less of a relief than it should be once he inevitably gets ditched. Conceptually, The Sweet East is as rigorously digressive as its author’s (best) film criticism, stringing together relevant references to a host of American iconoclasts and styling each of Lillian’s (mis)adventures as exercises in projection wherein her acquaintances—be they crusty vegan “artivists,” sad-sack domestic terrorists, trendy independent filmmakers (Jeremy O. Harris and Ayo Edebiri), It Boy movie stars (Jacob Elordi), or Butthole Surfers (a quick visit by Gibby Haynes)—treat the pretty, vacant interloper as a blank canvas for their artistic ambitions and/or sexual desires (and, given the general influence of Lolita, these things are usually implied to be one and the same).

There are limits to Pinkerton’s Candy-coated conceit, and, when regarding Ryder’s studiedly opaque performance, a skeptical viewer might suggest that it’s easy to draw a blank and call it portraiture. But a skeptic might also concede that, in a uniquely contingent-slash-incoherent era (in film culture as everywhere else), a movie slamming various insular, cult-like American realities up against each other in a knowingly futile battle royale with no winner is at least sort of on to something (including its own likely inability to penetrate the mainstream). Also, comedy—the kind that makes you laugh involuntarily, guiltily, and in spite of yourself—is its own unvirtuous reward. A protracted sequence on the overcrowded set of a thrifty, intellectually rickety indie drama, featuring Ryder in vintage Victorian garb, introduces welcome notes of self-deprecation before its grotesquely explosive, Coen-esque money shot—obnoxious, yes, but, again, funny. That goes ditto for an episode involving a Muslim sect that’s into EDM. Other, more fantastical touches along the way involving puppets, pervy animation, and knowingly phony matte backdrops skirt preciousness; as with any road movie, your mileage may vary. 

That a film that literally begins with a to-camera wink amounts to (and ends with) a kind of cosmic shrug is fair enough. You don’t have to hang the flag upside down to evince a nation in distress, but the fact that The Sweet East ends with a slightly Haggis-flavoured shot of the Stars and Stripes suggests a State of the Union all the same. In the press notes, Pinkerton and Williams cite a shared sense of patriotism, calling their film a “flare across the sky of America”—a metaphor that would, like that shot of Old Glory, be pretentious if anything about The Sweet East evinced a sincere saviour complex, white or otherwise. Instead, the closing title card opts for an open-ended optimism that’s as hard to pin down as it is to refute, and finally more ecumenical than you might expect from these bad widdle boys: it says, simply, “Everything Will Happen.”

Cinema Scope: Maybe I can start by asking you about Nick Pinkerton, who’s a mutual friend. The movie is going to get a certain amount of attention in some circles because he wrote the script, which has to do with his work as a film critic and also his social media persona… 

Sean Price Williams: Yeah, I don’t know that whole element of him, because I’m not on social media at all. When his name comes up and people get really excited, I’m like, he has this whole other world anyway.

Scope: He’s a great film critic who should have his jersey retired, I think.

Williams: That’s connected to the genesis of the movie; it’s why I kind of knocked on him to do it, to give it a shot writing a script. With Nick and another filmmaker, Michael Bilandic, it’s always been a thing for me, like—how do I get closer to these guys? I like this dude so much but he’s in his own shell, his own world. So I’m going to compliment him, tell him what a great writer he is, and suggest that he should write a screenplay for a movie, which I couldn’t believe hadn’t been suggested to him before. He’s just a good storyteller, and he’s perverse, and we have some things in common that maybe are not so common with other people. So that was it. He wrote one script that was very personal to him, an Ohio movie that was a bit like Thirtysomething but in Ohio, and I didn’t think I could get into that project. So we decided to do something else that we were both into, which was this weird sort of patriotic movie, which was also sort of like Alice in Wonderland. When I first read the script, I thought it was like a great Candy riff, but he told me he’d never read it. 

Scope: You guys have used the word “picaresque” to describe the movie, and picaresque fiction is all about momentum and social commentary—it’s like a guided tour through a particular world, and usually through the dirty or exciting parts of it as well. 

Williams: For me, that word sounds so old-fashioned—you almost have to use it for a period piece or something. It sounds like a word that you wouldn’t use for modern stories, but of course you can. That’s what Nick was thinking, not just picaresque but also Mary Pickford—Pickford, and D.W. Griffith. The name Lillian…there’s some not-so-subtle stuff there. He’d talk about Griffith a lot: we were at a screenwriting lab together and he just kept saying “David Wark,” “David Wark,” and this know-it-all woman there asked him who he was talking about and he just said “Griffith.” That was satisfying to him. Anyway, we said “picaresque” but not “road movie” because we didn’t think of it as that mobile, or as mobile as it became. The original script has a lot of sitting and talking—a lot more than ended up in the movie. The Lawrence character’s monologues were many, many pages. It wasn’t a movie that was necessarily bouncing along. 

Scope: Well, the rhythm is sort of mobile and then static, over and over again—she keeps coming to rest in all these different places. 

Williams: It cruises more than the script suggested. When I shot The Color Wheel (2011), Alex Ross Perry kept calling it a “road movie,” so we drove around and did a couple of shots of cars driving; all of a sudden, it’s a road movie to him. But what is a road movie? Is it like a Wim Wenders thing? I don’t know. 

Scope: I think these terms mean more to critics or distributors than to filmmakers, and you guys can probably annotate your own movie however you want in terms of influences. 

Williams: Yeah, but I try not to be very over-prepared when I go into a project. I really like movies and I’m watching them all the time, and I love when something hits me from out of nowhere, or from the wrong place, and it pushes things in a totally new direction. Or there’s a new colour all of a sudden. I watched Excalibur (1981) two days before we started shooting the second half of The Sweet East, and there’s this green light on all the characters in the forest in the daytime. I saw those green lights and thought we should try them out in this picnic scene. Probably a mistake, but I get a kick out of watching that. With some of the other movies that inspired this movie, you’d be hard-pressed to find an actual connection, or a literal connection. It’s all abstract until I see the dailies; I’m winging it, always. And I did my own focus on The Sweet East, so I was leaving myself an opportunity for mistakes the whole time. 

Scope: When you’re a director, all kinds of mysteries and meanings and enigmas and visual ideas are suddenly being ascribed to you, as opposed to your usual gig as a cinematographer.

Williams: Yeah, critics often don’t really know how movies are made, you know? When I work with Alex Ross Perry, he doesn’t have visual ideas. He has one or two things he wants to throw in there: in Her Smell (2018), he wanted one of the rooms to look like the interrogation room in Basic Instinct (1992), and the rest was coming up with things together. The Safdies are more visually oriented, not that they come to me with photo books or anything. It’s more like ’70s movies, and I get a little tired of ’70s cinema—we all get it. As a New York filmmaker, when we were doing our scrappy little movies, the 16mm grain maybe reminds people of the ’70s, but it’s sort of superficial; we don’t need a ’70s cinema wave. 

Scope: The ’70s are a Paradise Lost thing for critics of a certain age, I think, but the reference points in The Sweet East are either timeless or very old, as you mentioned. There’s an entire scene of the characters watching a Griffith short from 1909, and then the overall form has some silent-movie touches as well.

Williams: The intertitles were a late addition. We actually used the real Griffith cards in earlier cuts before we decided to make our own titles, but it was a bit too obvious. The styling of the different characters isn’t meant to be current: the Antifa guys, or whatever they are, are straight out of Repo Man (1984). They’re not really from today, and you sort of know that. Nothing is styled realistically. 

Scope: There’s something in the movie that’s daring us to see things in contemporary terms, though. And then Lillian immediately flees from it—she can’t wait to get out of that contemporary, millennial frame and go somewhere else.

Williams: It’s a world that she’s sick of, and not all that eager to get back to. 

Scope: The challenge of that character is that she can’t be so bored that she’s boring; if she’s too blasé, the movie becomes unfocused. I think Talia Ryder plays it very interestingly, with more of an attention span then she originally lets on. 

Williams: She’s paying attention, she’s recording. I know a lot of people like her, though, where they seem very distracted and then, three days later, they’ll recite something back that I said to them, or that they overheard somewhere. That’s very real. 

Scope: Her repetition thing reminded me of The Big Lebowski (1998)—which is me imposing my own frame of reference on the movie. It’s really funny, regardless; I think I counted it happening three or four times?

Williams: I think that there are three instances still in there. There were more in the script, and some that are barely noticeable or weren’t even intended. There are also some repeated gestures that she makes…the same smile two or three different times. I’ve watched this movie way too many times now. 

Scope: To get back to the idea of provocation in the movie—as commentary on contemporary affairs, politics, or ideology—it seems pretty frontloaded. You get to Pizzagate in the first five minutes. 

Williams: And then it slows down, and then it gets fun again in New York, and then it slows down again and almost stops. I don’t just want to talk about how brilliant Talia is, but all these concerns in the script—what is this character’s motivation? Does she like the people she’s up against?—all had to come out in the performance, and we got lucky for sure. We had some people read the script, these adults and professionals, and they were all really focused on asking, “Who is this girl, why is she doing this?” I’d say it depends on our actress, and they said that that was a stupid answer. They were right, but we still got lucky. 

Scope: The scenes with Simon Rex are really beguiling, because you’re forced to spend time with this character but he doesn’t fall into all the traps you’d expect. He’s really funny, and he manages to sustain interest in a way I didn’t expect. 

Williams: I don’t know if I should keep saying this, because it’ll be misconstrued, but that character is the most like Nick. There are things that are really near and dear to him in that character. Simon was incredible, and we had to cut out a lot of great stuff for pacing. All my years as a cameraperson, I’d get so pissed off about things that would be shot and then cut, thinking, “You guys are fuckups, you don’t know how to make a movie.” Now I feel really bad for the grief I gave those directors during their editing. I see how it goes. I’ve learned a lot. 

Scope: What was it like to work with actors in that role as a director? Was it comfortable? Intuitive? Challenging?

Williams: It was a lot of fun. I picked people who I knew I would get along with. People would have great first takes, and then I’d come in and be sort of confusing, and things would fall apart; the actors had great instincts about their characters, so I learned to rely on them and what they were doing. I was just capturing it, not documentary-style or anything, but just catching them doing their thing. It felt like a nice way to do it. I’m impressed by films where directors are a heavy presence and you can feel their fingerprints all over the performances and the mise en scène, but I wasn’t ready for that yet. 

Scope: That micromanagerial auteur myth is very seductive, not just for filmmakers, but also for critics and audiences: the Kubrickian idea of total control. But it’s not really true, is it?

Williams: We keep learning more and more about Kubrick, and he was extremely brilliant, and he had a lot of things worked out, but more than anything he had a great sense of humour. The movies are so funny that I think he had to be winging it a bit here and there as well. 

Scope: Comedy is hard to micromanage; there’s this sense that a lot of great comedies are loose and freewheeling. 

Williams: We wanted it to be a comedy. There’s a two-hour-and-40-minute version of the movie, and we really liked it, but it wasn’t a comedy anymore; it was just sort of abusive. I guess an obvious reference was O Lucky Man! (1973), including a musical cue we practically stole. That is a very funny movie, even though there’s like a 45-minute passage where nothing happens. I aspire to that movie someday. 

Scope: I’m not sure how fashionable Lindsay Anderson is these days.

Williams: if… (1968) is my favourite movie of all time. 

Scope: Believe it or not, they showed us that movie in school in Toronto—imagine watching that in a high-school classroom. 

Williams: I discovered it very young, and it’s part of the reason I didn’t want to go to college. I was scared, very scared, of not fitting in.

Scope: I know that you and Nick found your paths to each other through the sacred experience of working at a video store.

Williams: I didn’t know him when he worked at Kim’s Video; we were at different stores. But his writing about Kim’s closing sealed the deal about working with him; it was just a beautiful piece about what the experience meant to him. I also wanted to do something new with the producer, Craig Butta, just to try something different. Craig had never produced anything at this capacity, and a lot of people in the crew were given new jobs—like, they’d been a props person, and now they’re going to do production design. That was a big part of the spirit. 

Scope: I take it you’ve never been tempted to level up in terms of your cinematography gigs? I’m sure that after the movies with Perry or the Safdies you’ve gotten Hollywood offers.

Williams: I think it’s getting kind of known that I don’t want to work on union films, and I know that’s a crappy thing to say. If it was a filmmaker I was really, really excited about, I would consider joining up and doing whatever it took to work with them, but I haven’t gotten that feeling yet. I’ve had bad experiences on union movies—I don’t think it’s the way people should work, there’s nastiness and bad work comes out of it. I can’t work the way I want to with that going on. 

Scope: Can you see yourself switching between directing and cinematography back and forth going forward?

Williams: There are people in my life who wish that I would be a little more career-oriented. After we finished The Sweet East, I went to the south of France to make a strange little short film, and another one in Wales with Julien Allen; he was in the dark with me at a Jess Franco movie, pitching me his script. I was like, sure, count on me. That’s what I love, and I had a great time, just a passionate bunch of movie lovers making a film. Julien is a lawyer, and he’s just making this thing, which is beautiful. I just did a movie with Nathan Silver, with Carol Kane and Jason Schwartzman. I’ll always want to shoot with friends like that, and people who I like a lot. 

Scope: The lab you mentioned earlier is run by Athina Rachel Tsangari, right?

Williams: That was when I was talking about the adults reading it. Oxbelly.

Scope: Was Athina the adult in the room?

Williams: Yeah! She’s been such a great supporter of the project, from when it was just a bloated script. I’ve also worked with her as a cinematographer, and she’s a great director to be around because her stuff with actors is so educational. She’s got a beautiful voice and a lot of patience, and so much intelligence for talking to kids, and to adults, to everybody. She’s amazing. 

Scope: I want to ask you about the idea of patriotism, which you’ve used to frame the movie. It’s a complicated word, not only in relation to American politics, but also to American movies. When I think of American movies about patriotism, for some reason I don’t think of it as being in the East, sweet or otherwise. Does that make any sense to you? 

Williams: The cradle of American history and culture lies along the Eastern seaboard. Everything west is satellite. It’s an obnoxious thing to say, and predictable from someone who has only lived on the East Coast. Much of the film moves along through places I lived. They drive past the sign for Blue Ball Rd. in Maryland. I grew up on that street… 

Scope: What I mean is that calling a movie or a book or a record “American” something is very common, and it feels like a shortcut to a big statement about a place, except usually the statements are smaller than the place or their titles: American Psycho, American Idiot, American Beauty (1999)… 

Williams: Sorry, what is American Beauty? What was that about actually?

Scope: It’s one of the worst movies ever made in the history of the medium. But in the case of The Sweet East, the patriotic thing is sort of subsumed into something else, I felt—not American exceptionalism, but maybe a certain strangeness or irreducibility. 

Williams: I thought maybe you were talking about, like, Bridge of Spies (2015). We love Spielberg. Or Clint Eastwood. He makes very patriotic films, like American Sniper (2014).

Scope: I believe that Nick is a big fan of American Sniper.

Williams: Yes, he is. I think it’s kind of an impressive film. I’m also convinced that Clint didn’t direct it. 

Scope: Second unit for the win. 

Williams: I mean, Nick and I are both proud of being Americans, all the time. Nick goes to Belgium like four times a year, I don’t know exactly what for. He loves going there and trying out his French. He’s really caught up in it, but he’s also hung up on America, and I wonder what that means. I like our story. I like the pendulum. It’s dirty, but it’s impressive, and there are all these things going on behind the scenes that are scary. I live in New York City, and I wonder how it remains how it is, and how it doesn’t just become total chaos and terror. There’s a lot of bloodshed and a lot of bad things, but we also inspire and do so much to invent and move on. 

Scope: The Sweet East certainly doesn’t indulge any traditional patriotism, like Norman Rockwell or anything of that ilk.

Williams: That idea of a Norman Rockwell America is what needs to be criticized most. That version is the most devilish—the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom and all that stuff. They drove the Earth into flames that we will never extinguish, and I hate them so much for that. There’s something in those Norman Rockwell paintings that’s evil, that’s just such a fake. I feel like we’re an impressive people, but also kind of childish and stupid—although not in the way Europeans like to paint us. We’re kind of juvenile because we’re kind of gooey people. I think the movie is gooey.

Scope: Gooey is an interesting word.

Williams: I didn’t want anybody in the movie to be a really serious version of their character, like you’d see on the news. I can’t take things so seriously; if you take the news too seriously, you’re just dead. We get the kind of news that our grandparents could have never imagined. The only way to hear it is to have a sort of hopefulness. Maybe that’s also stupid… 

Scope: There’s a running idea in the movie of a sort of secret, hidden America: all these compartments and compounds, or isolated enclaves, like the Pizzagate dungeon. 

Williams: Originally, we were trying to hit harder on the idea of these secret societies. Twenty-five years ago, talking about secret societies meant you were a conspiracy nut, and that you read certain magazines, before the internet; now, it’s pretty common. You can talk about conspiracies without being a conspiracist. We can play with this material a bit. The Pizzagate tunnel thing, when we see the character going through it at the beginning—I don’t know how audible it is anymore—we hear him say, “It seemed so much bigger when I was a kid.” Nick hates this joke, by the way.

Scope: I laughed. 

Williams: I said, “Just let me have this one.” Anyway, in terms of what’s “true,” it’s like…what’s a better story? Did we go to the moon? Did we not? Whatever is a better story. Whatever makes nicer pictures.  

Scope: Film financing is a pretty nebulous topic, but on the subject of being cancelled, there’s a question worth asking about the movie’s connection—however direct or tangential—to Thank You for Smoking (2005) producer Peter Thiel.

Williams: First off, Peter Thiel has no idea that this film exists at all, unless he is interested in contemporary movies and reads thoroughly about Cannes. I would have to consider it a provocation by the journalist to ask me about him or to connect him at all with the film. Our producer’s proposition to us came from only himself, and only in nosy Google stalking would we have been able to find the connection to Mr. Thiel. I refused the COVID unemployment money from the other Mr. T because I didn’t want one bit of my food and drink to enter my body with any debt to him. The stimulus check was unavoidable, however, so I made sure to orgy with that. 

Peter Thiel as New York Times villain has never activated any gut hatred from me. I use PayPal. And anyone who thought Gawker’s demise was some sort of challenge to free speech… well, I just don’t know what to say to them. What a cauldron of poison that site was, and there are plenty more still around if one really yearns for the days of grocery-store aliens and Hitler sightings staring you in the face while you pay for your Clearly Canadian. 

The most important point regarding funding a movie at our level in this day and age is that it’s 99% a losing game. Any old hand in the industry will tell you about the mobsters, thieves, murderers, molesters, rapists, Secretaries of State, con artists, and hairdressers that have funded movies over the years. Movies that make it to top-100-films-of-all-time lists. But that was when there was money to be made on making movies! If someone has a genuine interest in headhunting a history of cinema’s sources of money, it would make for a fascinating podcast. Our film would certainly not even warrant a mention.

Scope: It’s unavoidable that the critical framing of this movie involves social scenes in New York, different cultural skirmishes, Dimes Square, the whole “edgelord” thing. 

Williams: I don’t know if it’s that edgy. When I watch it again, I think it’s a little soft. We do want it to poke at people, and there are some liberal points of view that we tried to test; we want to upset some people for sure. I do think Nick, when he gets onstage, might say things that are more provocative than what’s in the movie. I don’t know about being cancelled, or whatever. 

Scope: When you say “gooey” or “soft” you’re sort of saying “sweet,” right? Maybe like Sweet Movie (1974), which is a pretty good social satire… 

Williams: The last scene of that one when the woman is in the chocolate and everyone is smiling at her and she’s splashing around naked, that’s nice. 

Scope: You guys definitely don’t candy-coat the ending, but the last few minutes are less cynical than I expected.

Williams: I really do want it to be positive. There’s an optimism in the movie that’s a part of our patriotism. We don’t think America is dead, or that it’s ending. We have to be ready for the end, but also know that there’s hope and that there’s still a future. We experimented with the ending a lot, and it was important to me in the end that it didn’t feel hopeless.