An Inspired Comedy About the Plague of Political Correctness, Karma, and the Truth that Sets You Can Free

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Movie Reviews,   From Issue 885   By: Robert E Martin

19th September, 2019     0

This year’s opening night film at the 14th Annual Hells Half Mile Film & Music Festival is Safe Spaces - a contemporary ‘dramady’ that gets right what it’s like to be on the lowest rung of the career ladder in academia - and more importantly, dissects the particularly narrow lines highlighted and emphasized by trigger warnings, solidarity-infused hashtags, and safe spaces themselves in today’s social-media dependent culture.

In an age when virtually everything can produce a polarizing argument, writer & director Daniel Schecter wants to trigger people - or at least get them talking. This film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, centers on Josh, who’s portrayed by actor Justin Long. Josh is a New York City adjunct professor who, in a misguided attempt to fuel a student’s creativity and generate conversation, finds himself on the receiving end of some heavy-handed backlash.

A female student, who felt triggered by the sexually explicit dialogue involved with their exchange, reports him for jeopardizing the safe space of the classroom.  But Josh is from a time where people confront the truth — no matter how unpleasant — not just their truth, and he’s not ready to join the new world order without a fight.

Josh is a creative writing and drama professor who in the first scene shockingly grills a student about a sexual experience she tiptoed through in her writing, turning the whole thing into something he with decent intentions thought was provocative.  Speaking from experience, it’s an exercise commonly used in creative writing or filmmaking that asks: “Well, what next?”    Although he should have known better, Josh’s behavior turns him into persona non grata amongst students as the incident spirals out of control when a sexual assault survivor takes the case up with his department.

Schecter’s film is a fascinating and often cringe-inducing study of millennial urban life in a #MeToo era. Josh, a participant in the gig economy by virtue of his lack of job security, defends himself from triggered allies as he uses teaching tactics that were likely once acceptable; however, through a revelatory week spent with his dying grandmother, siblings and divorced parents (played by Fran Drescher and Richard Schiff) Josh starts to see the world through a different lens and begins to listen in earnest and think beyond himself as he confronts these divides.

As a writer and director, Schecter says prior to creating Safe Spaces he made more personal films for as little as $65,000, such as the film Supporting Characters back in 2012, along with a more broadly appealing film titled Life of Crime starring Jennifer Aniston for around $11 million.  “I think with Safe Spaces, I was basically attempting to make a film that felt more commercial and ambitious, while still keeping it sort of intimate and personal at the same time. I’m not entirely sure that was the product I achieved, but it's what I was going for anyway.”

Considering that this film packs a lot of emotive content into its narrative, which deals a lot with the struggle involved with realizing our personal & professional goals in life and the importance of forging human connections while also dealing with the karma our actions often reap through the process, what were some of the creative objectives Schecter was striving to achieve with Safe Spaces?

If you were able to glean this from reviews alone, I'd say that's more than accurate and fair,” reflects Schecter.  “In fact, it's a pretty good way of summarizing the film's goals - some of which I was conscious of while writing as other themes emerge outside of your control.  I was writing this at a time when to ignore #metoo and Trump  felt almost pointless and ridiculous, while at the same time you could feel audiences needed a break from these forces and you couldn't go at them too directly.”

“Early drafts of the script were far more explicitly political and test audiences at script readings were just turned off,” he continues.  “However, a single scene I wrote, inspired from an actual class I taught got an electrifying response. I realized I sort of had a front row seat to a culture much of my friends and family could barely believe while teaching at various colleges... so almost like a reporter I made it my mission to report back the things I was seeing and that concerned me; behavior from my students, my colleagues, and in all fairness, myself.”

As with every director & writer I’ve ever interviewed, Schecter says the most challenging component involved with pulling this film together was money and financing. “It's not a thrilling answer about the creative process, but this was a movie that I think is fair to say almost doesn't need or deserve to be made. It's not particularly commercial, the premise itself is almost divided between a dysfunctional family comedy and a college satire (though, to me, none of the scenes are satirical) which makes it hard to explain or promote. And even though we have a lovely and recognizable cast, it's still remarkably hard to raise even the modest amount of money we needed to make this film these days. I feel really lucky I got to make this movie.”

In terms of creative influences that have inspired and informed his work and what he feels are the qualities that distinguish it and makes it a unique experience for audiences, Schecter points to Woody Allen. “I’ve seen too much of Woody’s work over and over again, from such a young age, to avoid his influence impacting everything I do. For this film, however, we didn’t really watch or discuss many films in preparation. My goal was to achieve some version of what felt real to me and my life, even if the character or event I'm portraying didn't exist/happen. From my family to my dating life to my career as a professor, I just wanted some sense of verisimilitude and I was always trying to adjust the film towards that.”

Schecter also notes that Safe Spaces is slated to be released under a new title, After Class, on December 6th both in theaters and on demand and urges people to check it out if they can’t make it to the Hells Half Mile Festival.

Safe Spaces will be shown on Thursday, September 26th at 8:15 PM at The State Theatre in Bay City. For tickets and more information please visit





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