In a recent on a weekday afternoon in Manhattan, director Owen Kline, 30, sat on a couch in the glass-doored conference room. She wore blue velvet adorned with a glittering brooch of a dancer-type figure. His reading glasses hung from a Croakies-like device around his neck. He looked edgy and, counterintuitively, very cool, which in turn made him very popular, specifically in New York.
His parents are actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. Her sister is indie music star Frankie Cosmos. As a teenager he played the younger brother The squid and the whale. His first feature film, funny pagesproduced by the Safdie Brothers and A24, is out on August 26.
Shot on 16mm film, it’s an aggressively snarky coming-of-age comedy about Robert, an aspiring cartoonist who leaves the suburbs to follow his dreams, and also to live in a basement boiler room with strangers old (One of my favorite movie moments of the year is one of the men saying, “Dennis, the bad guy is threatening with his slingshot.”) It’s one of those movies you just have to see once to not never forget “How unpleasant this whole thing is, from beginning to end, without actually being funny,” says Deadline’s representative review. And then, a few sentences later: “I’m sure it’s destined to become a cult favorite.”
At a young age, Kline has a unique point of view and the confidence to try some weird shit. “Comedy is like that,” he says. “If you tie it to reality, you can make excuses for all these things that are unreasonable concepts.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
WIRED: How did this movie get started?
Owen Kline: Ten years ago I started playing with these characters. Originally, he had written a comic version called “Robert in the Boiler Room”. Just figuring out who this kid is, that would be it to want to go down there and be excited that’s why—it was the starting point. I wrote the first draft of the script in 2014, 2015, and then it was years of trying to get interest and no one even read it. Then Josh Safdie read it.
How did you initially connect with him?
She had known Josh since he was 15, when he graduated from Boston University. The Safdie brothers’ shorts just made an impact. When he moved to New York, I took the boom mic for a couple of his projects and performed for a short called John is gonetogether with Benny [Safdie]. I just got into the weeds with those script guys, really discovering a tone and a sensibility. They really helped me make it as a character study.
We were finally on set, and the first thing we filmed was the basement. It felt like we were starting where he had started with the comic, and it just set the tone for the rest. We just had such crazy fun spraying this glycerin all over these kids and old people. Sean Price Williams, the cinematographer, went on to say more sweat, more sweat, we must spray more sweat! We played with smoke machines, to create a certain fog. We wanted it to feel like a steam bath. A geriatric steam room.