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In 'I've Got Issues,' Filmmaker Steve Collins Says We All Do

The new movie "I've Got Issues" is described as an absurdist comedy about suffering.

“Breaking news, another thing just happened,” a news anchor announces. “We told you it was coming, and now it's actually here. We told you and you did not listen and now it is officially too late.”

Filmmaker Steve Collins, who lives in Connecticut and teaches film at Wesleyan University, said he wrote the script after Donald Trump was elected president.

“It did come out of a feeling, that I think a lot of people at least on the left were feeling, of real despair and a kind of hopelessness,” he said.

Collins said he saw a lot of hate boil up after the 2016 election, and found himself writing about decent people getting taken advantage of.

The movie’s title, he said, “is supposed to be a kind of a double meaning of emotional issues and the kind of more external or political issues that injure us."

Viewers meet injured people galore during 30 vignettes that parody inane corporate rules and bosses, phony gurus and also ridiculous injustice.

In one scene, Beatrice Sludge, who had her purse snatched, is testifying in court. She points out the defendant and the bag he stole. With the judge’s blessing, the defense attorney jumps up and begins to interrogate her.

“Miss Sludge, are you in the habit of making a mockery of the U.S. justice system?” he asks.

Beatrice doesn't understand what is being asked. Then, all of a sudden, a jury of all white men — all rather old — reach a verdict.

Beatrice is guilty.

“But I'm not on trial,” she protests, as the judge orders the bailiff to take her away. “I'm an innocent person! I'm the victim!”

Sludge is locked away, on death row. When her last meal arrives, she appears annoyed. It's scrambled eggs.

"What's this?” she asks. “I ordered ossobuco."


Pizza figures into another vignette. A lot of pizza.

The character of Mr. Pizza, also known as Timmy, is obese. He, his TV, his phone and his furniture are dripping in sauce and cheese. Essentially he has merged with his couch. 

Collins said the scene was inspired by his own nightmares about watching too much Netflix.

“I know everyone's become like this,” he said. “We're more shut in than ever before as a society, certainly with the pandemic now.”

Might we all become Mr. Pizza, who Collins wrote as truly repellant?

The scene really shocks people, Collins said, but he’s not making fun of his characters, he insists. "I’ve Got Issues” is about salvation, including for Mr. Pizza.

“I don't think I ever would have put it in there if I didn't come up with a way to get [Mr. Pizza ] off that couch," Collins said, “and a way to make him fall in love. That was the part I found really interesting.”

Mr. Pizza falls for a woman, Griselda, who is suffering from such anxiety that her face is contorted into a painful grimace.

“Courtney Davis, the actress, I've worked with her for years. She can only do [the face] for about 60 seconds,” Collins said. “I really laughed a lot. I found it interesting that when she made that face, I empathized with her because it was a face of discomfort and suffering and I like taking awful things and trying to make them funny.”

And yet, will viewers find a skit about the Ku Klux Klan funny?

In one scene, Jim is sitting in a job interview. He's told he didn’t get the job, but there is a paid internship.

“Really? What's it for?" he asks.

"It's writing the newsletter for the white male supremacy booster club,” replied a manager, Donald.

“Ah, that's not really my thing,” Jim said.

“It is a paid internship,” Donald said. “You'd also be in charge of our recycling program.”

“Could I just do the recycling part?” Jim asks.


Collins said even he questioned whether that vignette went too far, but he doesn’t believe it’s his job as a filmmaker to fix issues like racism. He said it is his job to raise them, and see what his characters do.

"It is my sort of utopian world view of what what people can do, specifically sensitive people. They can unite and help each other,” he said. “And it's not that complicated.”

And along the way, Collins said, it would be good if we can find something to laugh at.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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