A new film featuring the Green Mountain State is about a young married couple who decides to move to Vermont to find their more “authentic” selves and work on their troubled marriage. It's Us explores the idea of a "geographic fix" – that moving to a bucolic state with its beautiful pastoral landscapes and mountain air can help resolve an existential crisis. But ... can it?
This is territory that's been explored previously in film by Colin Thompson, himself a native Vermonter. Thompson grew up in Shelburne and, like the character he plays, now lives in Los Angeles.
In Thompson’s first film, Loser’s Crown, he played a character who grappled with the pull and allure of returning to Vermont, for better or for worse. In It’s Us, lead actress Eliza Coupe plays the displaced Vermonter, living in L.A. She convinces her husband, the Hollywood agent that Thompson plays, to move to the state to escape a stressful and sometimes demeaning job.
To say that the young couple is dysfunctional would be an understatement. Their friend, a character played by Jay Hayden (also a Vermonter), sums it up best: “I look at you guys, and I’m OK with being alone.”
The film features more than a few fights, with deep, personal jabs, and even some physical confrontation. Thompson says the point was to unsettle his audience.
“I'm not interested in having people walk away happy,” he says. “In the editing room, if I could go back, I would have left some stuff in. Because I freaked out, and I was like, 'They can't say that, like I don't want people to have to sit through that,' But ... we left enough in to make somebody feel uncomfortable.”
Thompson, who also wrote and directed the film, says he was thrilled to cast Eliza Coupe, a New Hampshire native whose previous work includes roles in Scrubs and Happy Endings. But he says that after seeing Loser’s Crown and reading the screenplay for It’s Us, Coupe was interested.
Thompson says he was initially daunted working with Coupe, an experienced actor.
“And then all of a sudden we're rolling … And I had a moment after the first take, like 'I think I'm self-inducing a stroke. And I don't think I'm going to be able to speak any of these lines. And I think everything's going to be – this is going to tank,’” Thompson says. “And she kind of coach me out of it. ... She just made everything easier. And there's nobody better.”
But one could argue that the true star of It’s Us is – just like in Thompson’s first film – the state of Vermont. With scenes filmed at Shelburne Orchards, a camp on Lake Champlain, the American Flatbread in Waitsfield and at the top of Mad River Glen, with views of the Green Mountains exploding in fall color, It’s Us showcases a particularly gorgeous side of the state.
“If anybody mentioned the weather, I was like, 'Do not jinx us, man. Don't even say it,’” Thompson says.
Thompson jokes that he sets his films here to save money. "I get a lot of favors here … But, I mean, the obvious reason is that I love this place. And I love the way it looks.”
The film pays homage to the Green Mountain State at the same time that it offers a warning to those who would contemplate the geographic fix.
“A cross-country trip's not going to change anybody,” Thompson says. “Maybe you'll say less terrible things for a week. But nobody's changing because they change locations.”
As for Thompson, he says he’s still committed to his life and work in Los Angeles. “I want to make movies that I want to see and that my friends want to see,” he says.
“What's keeping me in L.A. is, I feel l like I'm just starting to make the right connections, and maybe there will be a time where I can move back here and be able to fly out there when I need to, but also have a reputation that when people talk to, like, Eliza, asking, 'Should I go out and make the movie with those knuckleheads out in Vermont?' I want people to say, 'Every time. Do it every time. You'd be crazy not to do.' So I think we can get there in the next few years, but it's just a slow crawl.”
But trying to make it in the film business is as difficult as it sounds, Thompson says.
“It’s so terrifying how many people there are, and you think about how many ... 32-year-old dudes are here trying to write and make movies?,” he says. “It's the most daunting thing, flying in, it's like, 'I don't want to! Just take me back! I don't want to land.' It is hard but you've kind of just got to keep your head down and believe that your stuff's good enough.”
This story was originally published with the headline A Film About Marriage And Identity Pays Homage To Vermont.