Who knew a movie about divorce and day drinking could be so funny?
“Stone | Fruit,” finished in January, manages to toe that line with the story of Russell (Russ for short, played by Rob Warner) and Manny (Matt Palazzolo), an interracial soon-to-be-divorced gay couple taking a last hurrah weekend from their Bay Area abode to the vineyards of Paso Robles.
As comedian Bill Hader’s infamous “Saturday Night Live” character Stefon says, this movie has everything: silly hats, a threesome, an Australian woman named Barbara, scenic walks and LaCroix. And lots of wine.
“If someone is going through divorce, this is the road map for them,” said director Brandon Krajewski via Zoom. “Of course I’m joking.”
Co-writers Robert Andrew Perez and Krajewski met at a mutual friend’s wedding, but want to be clear, they did not get married to make this movie.
Krajewski, who has previously directed a documentary short and worked on national shows like “American Horror Story,” is also the film’s director. Perez, a published poet and Saint Mary’s grad, recently performed for the drag festival Oaklash via Twitch. They had never worked together before and Perez had never written a screenplay, but they both knew they wanted to create a gay film that wasn’t rooted in the trauma of coming out, or the friend role.
“We all benefit from movies that show some sort of rite of passage,” said Perez, via Zoom on his lunch break. “It allows us to reflect on our own milestones in life. I have so many coming out stories to pull from, as a gay man. I also have a lot of stories to start to understand grief. One of the vacuums of gay cinema was the breakup movie. These characters don’t need transformation, but their relationship does.”
“I’m a child of divorce,” Krajewski said. “My only memories of my parents’ divorce was them fighting all the time. Hopefully, maybe, somebody will see the film as a child of divorce like me. This movie is different enough that I can start relating it to my real life.”
The film’s style, inspired by Richard Linklater’s dialogue-centric and intimate “Before Sunrise” series, also alludes to points of contention that come up within any interracial relationship (Russ is white and Manny is Filipinx). For Perez, who is also Filipinx, diversity behind and in front of the camera was a core value in bringing the work to life.
“When I first wrote it, my preoccupation was this isn’t something you see in film, or it is a romanticization,” Perez said. “What’s important to me is representation, and I feel like that word has been thrown out a lot in the last decade. The audience needs to be partaking in the film, having gay men of color write, produce and act in it will also help it reach its audience.”
Filmed in 2017 and with post-production finished at the beginning of this year, Perez and Krajewski were ready to shop it to as many queer film festivals as they could. In a heartbreaking turn of events, lead actor, and emotional center of the film, Matt Palazzolo died in a hiking accident in 2018, before the film production was complete. The film is dedicated to him and his spirit.
As with all other facets of “normal life,” the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has complicated things. Brandon says the opportunities are slim or have disappeared with the new constraints.
“We thought, ‘Man, we’re gonna be in every gay film festival; this is amazing,’” Krajewski said. Because of COVID, festivals are canceling, or because they’re going online, the amount of films they can show is cut in half.
“For me, personally, working on this every day for three years — and movies only really live a year on the circuit — this is it. Our year is fucked, essentially. I know I sound bitter, but it’s hard,” he said.
But intrigued reader, worry not! There are still upcoming screenings. “Stone | Fruit” will be featured as part of Cinema Diverse: The Palm Springs LGBTQ Film Festival, which runs through Sept. 30. You can buy a ticket here and watch the movie here. It will also be screened online as a part of Atlanta’s Out on Film LGBTQ Film Festival, which runs Sept. 24-Oct. 4, and will be available to watch online Oct. 3. You can “select a showing” here.