Alexandra McGuinness is the film director daughter of U2 manager Paul McGuinness, and her debut feature film Lotus Eaters opens this weekend. Cahir O'Doherty talks to the young writer and director about the glittering world of sex, drugs and rock and roll (and rich young Londoners) the film follows.
Hell, someone once wrote, is other people. But in director Alexandra McGuinness’ debut feature, which seems painstakingly crafted to divide the critics, hell isn’t just other people -- the other people who live there like to throw loud rock and roll parties and send you multiple invites.
Lotus Eaters, which opens Friday, is McGuinness’ atmospheric and doom laden meditation on wealth and privilege, and the weird, pervasive boredom that can accompany it if you’re pretty, single and in your mid-twenties as you’re struggling to find your own voice.
McGuinness, by the way, is the daughter of one of the richest and well-known men in Ireland, Paul McGuinness, founder of Principle Management Limited. He has managed U2 from the start of the band’s huge career.
It’s the sort of attention grabbing background that can’t fail to help an emerging director get noticed, but Alexandra never refers to it in interviews – not once, ever - for obvious reasons. She wants to be judged on her own merits, rather like director Sofia Coppola, whom she admires, rather than riding her father’s coattails.
Still, there’s no question that she’s the ultimate insider, and Lotus Eaters consciously explores the opportunities and pitfalls of all that fabulous insider access. She certainly has plenty of material to draw from.
Her father’s own background was a blueprint for success. He was sent to boarding school in Ireland in 1961 to the famous Clongowes Wood College, then went on to Trinity College in Dublin where he directed plays and edited the magazine T.C.D. Miscellany, before leaving without completing his degree.
Later McGuinness married Kathy Gilfinnan, who he met while studying in Trinity, and they have two children, Alexandra and Max.
Alexandra grew up in a big house on Dublin’s leafy South Side with the most famous rock and rollers in the world for neighbors, so it’s not surprising the soundtrack to Lotus Eaters is outstanding. When you live and work around people with an abiding passion for music it clearly rubs off.
What McGuinness’ film does very well is to capture the enormously imprisoning little world that her characters live in. Being obscenely rich, the only people they can really talk to or understand are other rare birds like themselves. That means running into all the same faces at parties, country clubs, castles and rock concerts.
It’s a very small word, filled with the same people talking about the same things. It can look like an endless black and white Calvin Klein perfume commercial; it can look like a European classic. It’s usually terrifying.
Lotus Eaters follows Alice (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), a former model who hopes to become an actress, and her would be boyfriend Charlie (Johnny Flynn) as they stumble through an endless maze of cigarettes, booze, heroin and all night parties to the point where all the good times really start to sour. No one seems to connect with anyone.
Is this a horror film, I wonder?
“I suppose it could be seen in that way, maybe by parents,” McGuinness, 28, tells the Irish Voice with a laugh. “Alice is making what she thinks are the right choices, and they aren’t. But she’s trying.
“My point of view on the film has changed since I made it. Since it’s done its festival runs I realized I was more sympathetic to Alice when I was making the film. I suppose I’m now more with the audience and you. I can see she’s making the wrong choices. I have more distance from her now.”
Alice has some pretty bad friends. None of them appear to listen to each other.
The film came about from scrapbooks full of character notes that McGuinness compiled over the years, and it has kept that impressionistic feel. Characters are suggested rather than well drawn. It’s an intentional approach based on the experimental European cinema of the 1960s.
“I have character notes that I’ve kept from cafes and parties and real life people,” McGuinness explains.
“I kind of squished then all together in the film. But it’s really amped up. To a certain extent I’m glad that a show like Girls has come along to give it a different context. A lot of Lotus Eaters is satire and is supposed to be funny.”
Not every critic to date has recognized that claim. Being Paul McGuinness’ daughter has given Alexandra a context of her own, and she’s come in for an earful from some critics eager to take potshots at her film’s top-drawer characters.