Cindy Chupack on Her New Netflix Movie, ‘Otherhood’

Screenwriter and director Cindy Chupack knows how to write for funny women- probably because she is a very funny woman herself. After writing and producing for shows like Sex and the City and Modern Family, Cindy is making her first foray into directing with the upcoming Netflix film, Otherhood. Otherhood tells the story of three best friends whose adult sons forget Mother’s Day, prompting an angry girls trip to New York City to tell them off. Cindy and I spoke about some of my favorite lines from the film, what exactly the term “otherhood” means, and why she thinks Sex and the City was so revolutionary.

Katie Couric: The film, which stars Patricia Arquette, Angela Bassett and Felicity Huffman, is called Otherhood. What is “otherhood?”
Cindy Chupack: “Otherhood” is that stage after motherhood, when you’re an empty nester and your children are adults and they don’t seem to need you anymore.  In the film I think these three women almost feel like their kids have unceremoniously fired them. But I think it’s also a time when you really have a chance to take stock of your life, and decide how you feel about yourself and your relationships, including your marriage or your friendships. It’s the second half of your life. But I also think that “otherhood” can be any stage of life where your sense of who you are and how you define yourself changes.

Katie: How much of the film is autobiographical, and which of the characters do you relate to the most?
Cindy: I probably relate the most to Gillian (Patricia Arquette), because I use humor and sarcasm as a coping mechanism. I’m also neurotic and a worrier like she is. There’s a line that she has about her son where she says “He’s worse than I thought! I UNDER worried! That’s never happened to me before!” I think every once in a while you realize that something isn’t just as bad as you thought- it’s worse. 

I’ve written about many stages of life and I try to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, especially in women’s lives. I want to celebrate what’s heroic about every stage. Motherhood is something I hadn’t written much about. I was late to the game of motherhood- we adopted our daughter and she’s eight now. But I still feel my period of “otherhood” coming up on the horizon. I am who I am because I allowed myself to put some distance between myself and my parents. Now that I’m a mother, I have to recognize that’s something my daughter is going to need someday, and that’s something that’s really hard and complicated to grapple with! 

Katie: My biggest takeaway was that we should all only have daughters! Why did you decide to give all three of the women sons, and how would this story have been different if they had daughters?
Cindy: The film is based off of a book by William Sutcliffe, and he wanted to explore the relationships between adult men and their mothers. Usually when we see relationships in movies between adult men and their mothers they focus on the negative, like “he’s a mama’s boy” or “she’s the over- bearing mother in law.” So he wanted to explore that relationship a bit more in- depth in the book, because so many men really learn about women and how to relate to women from their mothers. So it was really baked into the concept of this movie from the beginning. But I’ve always loved pulling back the curtain on the male psyche. I love getting the inside scoop on how men talk to each other, and talk to their mothers, and talk about women. So I liked that this movie really honed in on those relationships. 

If it were about mothers and daughters… I think there are different complications! But I think there’s something universal about how you deal with your parents as you grow up, and how much space you need from them. But I think it is easier for women to talk to each other, whether it’s mothers and daughters or female friends. I think there would be a little less mystery if it were women- I think mothers and daughters are generally a bit more communicative. But I thought it was interesting to explore boys and their mothers having to find the language to bridge that gap.

Katie: The film is pretty light and funny, but there are a few lines in there that really punch you in the gut- one that I thought was particularly poignant was when Patricia Arquette’s character says “we’re middle aged women in Manhattan, we’re practically invisible.” But later, Angela Bassett’s character says, “You know what’s anti- aging? Death! Let’s be happy we’re aging!” Which of these messages hits closer to home for you? Or does it depend on the day?
Cindy: I love that you picked that out- the line about middle aged women in Manhattan! That was a line that had been in there, and then we’d taken it out, and then at the very last minute I was like “let’s leave that in there, I really miss it!” I thought it was funny. I mean, there are benefits to being invisible sometimes, right? Sometimes you just want to move through the world without being bothered. A friend of mine, actress Julia Sweeney, she was talking about how much she loves getting older, because she can dress however she wants and nobody notices! I think it’s funny to realize that at a certain age you’re not being looked at the same way, and how women react so differently to that. I think there’s a freedom in not having to worry about your looks. 

On the anti- aging line… you always look at a picture from five years ago or ten years ago, and think “Oh I look so young!” And you know when you’re seventy you’ll look back at pictures from when you were sixty and miss that time. It’s so important to try to stay present. Because we’re all lucky to be where we are. So I kinda believe in both of those lines. Live every day, but you don’t have to be invisible. You don’t have to accept that. 

Katie: You were also a writer for “Sex and The City.” At the time “Sex and the City” came out, the concept was pretty revolutionary- you had these four single women who were in their thirties and forties and were living their best lives and were most certainly NOT invisible.  Why do you think that show was so special?
Cindy: I think the reason that show resonated so well was because before Sex and the City, there was this idea that being single was an “in between” stage. You were just waiting to be married, when in reality for a lot of women, being single was the best time of our lives. The show captured that- it looked at that period as a celebratory time. These four women really got to figure out who they were, and have these incredible friendships, and have so much fun. They weren’t married but their lives were still so full. 

I hope Otherhood resonates in a similar way- that it highlights this special time in a woman’s life when her kids have gone out on their own. Being an empty nester doesn’t have to be about what your life isn’t anymore, but about what it could be. 

Katie: Female friendships are at the heart of so much of your writing- you must have some pretty incredible friends.
Cindy: I do! And I keep finding new ones! I think you’re always still finding your tribe. Because of my daughter I’ve recently made all of these new friends that are mothers of kids her age, and you gravitate towards people who are going through things you’re going through. I’ve worked on so many shows where I make new friends. I love that I can still make new ones, but I also have some girlfriends from highschool that I get together with at least once a year even though we all live in different places. They’re actually all coming to the premiere of the movie! We all grew up together in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We’ve seen each other through so many stages. I think your friends from childhood who really know your family, and visited your house where you grew up, and knew your pets… thats a special kind of bond. Because they know exactly where you came from.

Katie: Thank you Cindy! “Otherhood” premieres tomorrow, Friday August 2nd, on Netflix.