Anatomy Of A Scene: Behind The Year’s Most Uplifting Movie Moment, From “The Meddler”

We talked with filmmaker Lorene Scafaria about making the charmingly irresistible chicken coop scene from The Meddler.

Anatomy Of A Scene: Behind The Year’s Most Uplifting Movie Moment, From “The Meddler”

The Meddler is not exactly a drama, a romantic comedy, nor a dramedy. Veteran screenwriter Lorene Scafaria instead wanted the second film she directed to exist in the spaces between genres, pinging different notes from along a vast spectrum at different moments. (Look for a longer Co.Create interview with Scafaria soon.) One moment, however, transcends all the genres in the film’s DNA to draw out an audience-response of pure delight. The chicken coop scene in The Meddler is perhaps the most uplifting moment from any film so far this year.

A little necessary context: The Meddler is a film that draws heavily from Scafaria’s own life, namely her relationship with her mother. The filmmaker’s onscreen counterpart, played by Rose Byrne, makes a temporary exit from the proceedings early on, to start work on a TV show, leaving the viewer to follow around her mother, Marnie (Susan Sarandon), who doesn’t seem to have much beyond the relationship with her daughter to fill up her day. One of several people Marnie starts spending time with–played by Jerrod Carmichael and Cecily Strong, among others–is JK Simmons’s police officer/love interest, Zipper. And perhaps the most surprising detail about Zipper is that he happens to own a small army of chickens.

“It was really tough to figure out a love interest for my mom, who doesn’t want one at all,” Scafaria says. “In creating Zipper, I need a guy who would be non-threatening enough, but also really cool and unusual. So I just came up with this retired cop who lived up in Topanga with these chickens.”

After Marnie and Zipper meet-cute, they eventually end up checking out Zipper’s chicken farm. In order to avoid overselling the off-the-charts charm of this scene before including any more information about it, here it is in full:

Only a cartoonishly over-the-top Harry Potter villain would not be experiencing at least a little bit of joy after watching that clip. It is an asteroid-size pleasance-cluster consisting of the right Dolly Parton song, charismatic performers, and adorable dancing chickens; basically a scientific formula for generating smiles.

“I had written that song into the script,” Scafaria says, “but then I went and took footage of chickens and cut it together to the song just to make sure it was as funny and sweet in my head as I hoped it could be. Watching these chickens dance around to that Dolly Parton song just worked, but once we got Susan and JK and the coop it felt like it took on a life of its own.”

Apparently, the chickens behaved themselves on set too. Well, aside from the fact that their willingness to dance at any given moment determined the schedule of the day. After relinquishing their tyrannical hold on the shooting schedule, though, the chickens are now just pecking at our heartstrings.

The Meddler is now playing in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other select cities.

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. He has also written for The Awl, Rolling Stone, McSweeney's, and Salon.