Interview : Marguerite Moreau on processing grief in Monuments

The ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ star discusses how the film allowed her to process her own grief, and much more.

Ahead of the On Demand and Digital release of director Jack C. Newell’s new film Monuments on August 3rd, we had the privilege of speaking with two of the film’s stars – David Sullivan and Marguerite Moreau. If you haven’t already caught our interview with David, you can find it right here – and keep on reading for our chat with Marguerite.

It’s often said that the funniest people are often the most insightful when it comes to some of life’s heaviest subjects. Marguerite Moreau, whose performances as camp counselor Katie in David Wain and Michael Showalter’s Wet Hot American Summer and its Netflix series follow-ups are pure comedy gold, proved exactly that when we spoke about her latest film Monuments.

Moreau plays Laura, the late wife of David Sullivan’s Ted who is stricken with grief when Laura suddenly passes. When he begins to have visions of her beyond death, he spontaneously steals her ashes and embarks on a madcap cross-country journey to lay her to rest.

I spoke to David (Sullivan) about filming Monuments yesterday, and I was saying how one of the key strengths of Monuments is how it manages to balance comedy and tragedy in a way that a lot of films fumble – they don’t always know when to hit the right notes.

David told me that he felt you both had quite different interpretations of the tone of the film not just when reading the screenplay for the first time, but while filming too. It seems like a case of watching scenes later on and thinking “gee, I saw it completely different – but it worked!”

Marguerite: Lucky bastard! [laughs]

Yeah, I think the whole time I was asking the director, “what is the tone?”. And that’s because you can see in the writing that there was this really heightened world. And of course, there’s a lot of really nice, creative sequences in the movie that don’t lift off the page until you see it. You’re like, “how is that going to work?”.

He really tries to do something with the camera and his storytelling, and I think if he would have said that it was like the Coen Bros. and Wes Anderson had a baby movie, I would have been like, “ah, gotcha”. The whole time I was wondering “is this a heightened moment?”, and asking and checking in a lot about how much energy I needed.

Like you said, you have to earn those moments of pause; otherwise, you kind of don’t care. Plus, those moments of levity make it safer, perhaps, to feel your feelings in those more serious moments if you’re relating at all to having lost someone.

One of the main themes in the film is the significance of things in your life that only becomes apparent when they’ve passed or moved away. I think there are a lot of truths about that in Monuments in quite a few ways.

Marguerite: Yeah, I think death is a real removed part of society, when it’s something we all face and are going to face. I can understand why it’s avoided – I mean, we have to get up every day and live our life. I think the human body or mind is wired to ignore that. But I think we’ve gone even further. We don’t, for example, even really live on farms anymore, where we see the life cycle of beings more regularly. I think a lot of us seek to avoid it, and it adds to the extreme nature of the experience that can be hard to grapple with.

We definitely have to sort of turn our heads away a little bit on a daily basis, because life is so complex and strange in a way that relies on us not paying too much attention to the cogs and gears turning behind it, and just letting it happen. When you have to actually pay attention to the workings, it can be pretty overwhelming and strange.

Marguerite: I know! I mean, look at what’s happened to the world right now with the pandemic. We’re having to look at it daily. But the weird thing about this sickness is the way it happens. You don’t see it. It’s not like bodies on a battlefield – it’s away, alone in a hospital. It’s happening to so many people, but you can’t really see it on their faces, right? The collective grief that we’re all going through right now, we are being asked every day to look at the cogs.

So hopefully, this movie is an offering for helping to process to also having the humor to go: hey, life is a crazy place, and this is a crazy thing that’s happening to us. But let’s kind of hold hands and take a deep breath. Because you’re not alone as you think. It’s universal, and it is hard.

That’s one of the things that make movies so important to me. They can do such an excellent job of filtering life in a way that helps us process all of that. Monuments is a good example; it has some dark moments, but it captures the strangeness of the experiences you have and the people you meet around those moments. Even in an exaggerated, heightened version of real life, movies are often truer to life than you might first notice.

Marguerite: I like the magic aspect of the film; in that it takes you on a ride that’s bright and colorful. Even the music has a carnival-esque feeling that sweeps you up in the way the world does. Grief comes out of nowhere. One minute, you’re sweeping the porch – and then you look at the door and remember Dad putting up the peephole for you or fixing the doorbell. And you weren’t prepared for that, because you were just going to sweep the porch, and now you have to take a minute! I think this movie sweeps you up in this jingly-jangly ride and then reminds you how that’s how life feels – one minute it’s on, the next minute it’s off.

Grief is not a linear thing. I always thought that grief was: someone dies, then you go lay on a couch for four days and you just like, stare out, and then you arrive at the funeral. No! You don’t arrive at the funeral. You’re there early, putting out the chairs, making sure that everybody has a programme on their seat, checking to see if your mom needs anything. Where are the flowers?!

I know we were talking about how wonderful stories and movies are, but sometimes the portrayal of death and grief, to me, doesn’t really get it right. And I appreciate that this movie feels truer to me with grief. It’s kind of hard to nail down – how do you let go when there’s nothing physically to let go of?

It must be gratifying to come across a project that can speak the truth to what you’ve gone through yourself.

Marguerite: I didn’t understand the movie fully when I read it, and that made me interested to talk to the director more and realize, “oh, this could be a really good space to process my own grief in”. And I was very grateful for that. He was very honest about how he came to write the project, and I thought there’s something here that could add to the canon.

I remember being a kid, sitting in the theatre, and the moment the lights went out I’d already be crying. There was some safety in the dark while being told a story and being moved by the music and the images to say, “I’m having to let go of something right now”. And for this providing a space for that, I’m so grateful.

MONUMENTS will be available On Demand and Digital on August 3rd.

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