- The Washington Times - Monday, August 17, 2015

The new film “10,000 Saints” is really and truly about sinners. The film, from directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, which opens at the District’s Angelika Pop-Up Friday, takes a detailed look at the New York punk culture of the late 1980s, as well as the missteps that young people make — both then and now.

“Bob and I had been talking for a while — we’re both like of the 80s, that’s our era — about doing a New York-based story in the 1980s, but we didn’t know what,” said Ms. Berman, who then discovered the eponymous book by Eleanor Henderson. “I just thought the characters were very human and flawed in ways that were very honest,” Ms. Berman said. “But regardless of how flawed they were, you still kind of loved them and cared about them.”

“10,000 Maniacs” stars Asa Butterfield as Jude, a young man in Vermont dealing with both family turmoil and personal tragedy. His father, played by Ethan Hawke, invites Jude to spend time with him in New York. There Jude encounters the “straight-edge” movement of 1980s punk culture, eschewing drugs.

Of Mr. Butterfield’s casting, Ms. Berman said: “People are surprised and like, ‘That’s the boy from Hugo,’ because they think of him like that. They grew up those kids.”

The film co-stars Hailee Steinfeld as Eliza, a precocious teen who becomes involved in a strange triangle between Jude and the rock musician Johnny (Emile Hirsch). Miss Steinfeld was perhaps most noteworthy for her Oscar-nominated performance as the young heroine of “True Grit.”

“She’s changed a lot since we filmed the movie,” said Mr. Pulcini. “And she’s a terrific actress. She’s working so crazily because she’s so good.”

Drug use and abuse figure prominently in the story. Jude’s father, played by Mr. Hawke, is a pot dealer, and using has major consequences for one of the major characters.

“I remember growing up myself, and I do think [in] the ‘70s and ‘80s there was a really unhealthy relationship with drugs for young people,” Ms. Berman said. “And I knew people who did die of drug overdoes or had their lives completely destroyed. It’s still relevant now, but it was very of the era.”

“I see a lot of movies about drug users … I call them ‘misery porn,’” added Mr. Pulcini. “And I feel like a whole lot of filmmakers get caught up in that. What I liked about this story is that it has all those elements, but it’s really more interested in the human beings and their relationships. It’s really a relationship movie.”

A family affair

Ms. Berman and Mr. Pulcini, in addition to being collaborators, are spouses in real life. Perhaps it is little wonder, then, that themes of family figure prominently in “10,000 Saints.” Ms. Berman noted that the term “family” itself, in her view, is elastic and not simply a matter of to whom one is related by blood.

“We have a lot of adoption in our family, so that was a theme that was very, very meaningful to us,” she said, “because we have all different kinds of ways that families have been created. And I think that every family in [the film] is a little bit screwed up, and there’s also a lot of love.

“And they’re all complicated, which I think families are. None of them are perfect, but hopefully there’s a lot of love that will overcome it.”

Mr. Pulcini said that metaphysical aspects of the story appealed to him — what he described as the novel’s “cosmic quality.”

“It’s almost a meditation on how random it is to exist, and actually be here and to end up with the people you end up in life,” he said, “whether they’re related or just coming in and out of your life by some random chance. And how they can have an enormous impact on you.”

Ms. Berman and Mr. Pulcini seemed to be drawn to oddball outsiders in their work. The duo helmed “American Splendor” in 2003, starring Paul Giamatti as the late eccentric cartoonist Harvey Pekar. The film un-self-consciously mixed in Mr. Giamatti’s performance with archival footage of Pekar on David Letterman’s show — sometimes in the same scene.

“I think we always gravitate to characters who are, on the surface, not the most presentable,” Mr. Pulcini said. “I think sometimes you find the biggest hearts there in people like that. And I think we have an appreciation for eccentrics.”

“We come from the documentary world,” added Ms. Berman. “We have a love and appreciation of people that are offbeat in a real way and not in a sort of manufactured or self-conscious way.”

When asked how the two co-directors resolve differences on the set — especially considering their marital union — both parties laugh good-naturedly.

“We’ve figured out a way of dealing with disagreements that are not quite disruptive to the set,” said Ms. Berman. “That being said, we are definitely like an old married couple, just in our lives.”

“I think our fighting has diminished with each film,” Mr. Pulcini added, “so now it’s not quite as powerful.”

“We are an old married couple,” Ms. Berman said.

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