Films don’t get much more personal than Suzi Yoonessi’s Unlovable, a musical comedy premiering at South by Southwest yesterday. Written by star Charlene DeGuzman, Mark Duplass and Sarah Adina Smith, the film is based on DeGuzman’s life story, following a young woman coming to terms with her sex and love addiction. Staying with Maddie (Melissa Leo), a friend in Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, while working her steps, DeGuzman’s Joy strikes up an unlikely friendship with Maddie’s mentally ill brother (John Hawkes), forming a band out of his garage.
“This story means a lot to me because I actually started writing it while I was in the beginning of my recovery from sex and love addiction. It felt really important to me to bring awareness to this because I feel like even if someone isn’t an addict, there is still that feeling of feeling unlovable, or broken, or wanting love,” DeGuzman told Deadline, appearing at SXSW with Yoonessi and Hawkes. “I just wanted to help people feel understood and less alone.”
For DeGuzman, the project started with a DM on Twitter. Reaching out to Mark Duplass with a pilot script, Duplass wrote back expressing interest in collaborating on a film instead. Several meetings later, the actress was connected with producer Jen Roskind and co-writer Smith, and a film was born.
“I feel like the material had so much heart to it and such a strong musical component to it,” Yoonessi said, addressing her attraction to the material. “I grew up in a riot grrrl band playing music, so the idea of telling a story with music being such a strong thread to the narrative was compelling.”
Writing the electrifying original songs heard throughout the film was none other than John Hawkes. No stranger to music, playing for years in his own band in Austin, Hawkes found the film’s songs in a way that felt organic. “It’s the opposite of scoring, where you watch the movie and add the emotional element through music. This was kind of guessing what the story would want, color-wise, how the songs could best serve the scene,” the actor said. “It was kind of just groping around in the dark at the beginning to try to figure out what would work, and then Charlene and I would get together and I’d play her what I’d written.”
For more from Deadline’s conversation with the team behind Unlovable, click above.
The Deadline Studio at SXSW 2018 is presented by MoviePass.