Interview – ‘Strays’ director Josh Greenbaum: “We need more comedies!”

They say a dog is a man’s best friend, but what if the man is a total dirtbag? In that case, it might be time for some sweet revenge, doggy style. When Reggie (Will Ferrell), a naïve, relentlessly optimistic Border Terrier, is abandoned on the mean city streets by his lowlife owner, Doug (Will Forte; The Last Man on Earth, Nebraska), Reggie is certain that his beloved owner would never leave him on purpose.

But once Reggie falls in with a fast-talking, foul-mouthed Boston Terrier named Bug (Oscar® winner Jamie Foxx), a stray who loves his freedom and believes that owners are for suckers, Reggie finally realizes he was in a toxic relationship and begins to see Doug for the heartless sleazeball that he is.

Determined to seek revenge, Reggie, Bug and Bug’s pals—Maggie (Isla Fisher; Now You See Me, Wedding Crashers), a smart Australian Shepherd who has been sidelined by her owner’s new puppy, and Hunter (Randall Park; Always Be My Maybe, Aquaman), an anxious Great Dane who’s stressed out by his work as an emotional support animal—together hatch a plan and embark on an epic adventure to help Reggie find his way home … and make Doug pay by biting off the appendage he loves the most.

The celebrate the release of Strays, I had the chance to chat with the film’s director Josh Greenbaum (director of Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar) about his favourite comedic cinematic experiences, and why he’s slightly hesitant to show Strays to his mother-in-law!

STRAYS, directed by Josh Greenbaum

Nick: Josh, it’s so good to see you again, man!

Josh Greenbaum: Nick, it’s good to see you again! I always love chatting with you!

Nick: I saw the film last night, and it Is so fucking funny! It reminded me of how good it is to be in an audience of people laughing and enjoying a movie. I’m curious to find out whether you have a cinematic experience you remember where you enjoyed being in a crowd that was having fun and laughing so hardly to a movie?

Josh Greenbaum: I mean, I have a lot! One that jumps out to me, it’s a weird one, but I remember Role Models and the crowd cheering with the KISS truck came over. A crowd cheering in the middle of a comedy was great!

I also have a wonderful memory from a while back now – which tells you that we need comedies back! – but I had the most fun at Tropic Thunder. Mostly because I went with my now wife, and we were both dying laughing. But, her mother, my mother-in-law… that movie did not go over well! She’s a hilarious woman, but it went right over her head. I asked her afterwards and she said she didn’t understand it. She didn’t like the trailers beforehand.

I weirdly also, by the way, went to The 40-Year-Old Virgin with my mother-in-law, who I think was very uncomfortable! So I need to stop going to comedies with my mother-in-law… who I love! Please keep that part in! [laughs]

I’m so glad you got to see it with people because it’s, you know, a special feeling [being] in a communal experience which is very normal and very human to share that experience. We do it at concerts, but I love it in a comedy space where you’re all laughing together.

Nick: A lot of that humour for myself personally came from Randall Park, who perfectly capped off scenes with these off-kilter one liners. It had me in stitches. But I’m assuming as a director, it must be pretty hard to go through all these alternate takes from Randall [and the cast] and pick what makes the film. Is there anything that you really wish could have made the film that you had to leave on the cutting room floor?

Josh Greenbaum: Oh, that’s a good question! I mean, I’m sure there are. If there’s something that I love to death, I will fight to the death to keep it. That’s sort of my job! Now, obviously, it’s hard when it’s like, if no one is laughing and I’m the only one laughing, it’s a little harder to sell it to everyone around me.

I wish I had a good answer for you. I’m a fan of keeping the films length the way it deserves to be in holding the audience’s attention. And sometimes, films can get bloated, particularly in comedy. You run the risk of falling in love with the comedic runs. They are really fun, and they could be working for me, and they could be working for you. But, if they’re not progressing the story, sometimes they can lose the larger audience. I think there’s runs in this movie that I probably would have liked to have longer.

The poop montage, or as I called it, ‘The Poop Ballet’. [laughs] Which was a bit of a musical, Busby Berkeley of dog poo. Like, everybody has a different tolerance for that kind of comedy. So finding the right balance… I was probably ready to go longer, and the longer it got, the funnier it was to me. And others are just like: “please get me out of the scene” because they just have zero tolerance for that, which I totally appreciate. That’s probably more where it lands. The length of a scene is probably where I gave in on some stuff that maybe could have been longer.

Nick: I’m getting the wrap now, Josh, but I have to ask – has your mother-in-law seen Strays yet?

Josh Greenbaum: No! She’s coming to see it Wednesday night. It’s going to be really funny. I’ll have to report back. I don’t think it’s going to go well. I’m just going to be honest!

Nick: I can think of a few things that she might not enjoy! [laughs]

Josh Greenbaum: By the way, this is very funny. She also was excited for Barb and Star, and then invited all of her friends over, and it was not their cup of tea! She was like: “what is funny about this? Why do they think modelling in CostCo is funny?” I love her dearly. She’s a very funny woman. But I didn’t quite make these movies for her.

The other night we had a screening, and these two older, maybe mid-70s, women who were adorable. And they walked out of the movie at the end, they didn’t walk out during the middle. But as the movie ended, and I was in the wings waiting to do a Q+A, they were kind of giggling. I could see they had enjoyed it. But, one of them turned to me, not to her friend, and she didn’t know I was the director, and she said: “Well, that was a bit much!” [laughs]

Nick: [laughs] I think that’s a compliment, man!

Josh Greenbaum: It’s totally a compliment! I’ll take it!

Nick: I really appreciate you taking the time today, Josh! I can’t wait to talk again soon.

Josh Greenbaum: Yeah, same, Nick! Good talking to you.

A huge thank you to Josh for being such a great chat, and thank you to Universal Pictures for organising the interview. Strays is in Australian cinemas from August 17.

You can watch the interview via our YouTube page below

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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