For six years, Jenna Laurenzo had a dream: to tell a lesbian coming out story and to make a queer movie with wide appeal. All she needed, according to the industry, was a team.
“Without financing, it was hard to attach anyone,” says Laurenzo, the queer writer, director and star of Lez Bomb, now playing in select theaters and streaming on digital platforms. “Investors wanted to meet the team. So I decided to be the team.”
Lez Bomb is a quirky yet heartfelt Thanksgiving comedy with a girl on girl twist. Lauren (played by Laurenzo) plans to come out to her dysfunctional New Jersey family with her loyal girlfriend Hailey (Caitlin Mehner) in tow. But Lauren’s best-laid plans are quickly thwarted by the arrival of her male roommate Austin (Search Party’s Brandon Micheal Hall), who may or may not have a crush on her, and a series of misunderstandings that just keep getting wackier.
Think Home for the Holidays meets Imagine Me & You—but add in horny grandparents, pot-smoking uncles, and an airborne smoked turkey.
“One of the reasons I made Thanksgiving the backdrop was because it allows for the family dynamic to come alive,” Laurenzo says. “Family dynamics are relatable, sexuality aside. I’m hoping to reach a queer audience, while inviting a broader audience into the narrative and conversation as well.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day, though, especially when it’s a lesbian Thanksgiving. After spending years trying to get a director and a star (and money) attached, Laurenzo started small.
“I knew I needed a proof of concept as to what the movie would look like, and so was born Girl Night Stand,” Laurenzo says of her comedic short, which garnered over three million views on YouTube and translations in various countries. “I wanted it to serve as a prequel to Lez Bomb, while also serving as something I could develop later as a TV series.”
She never predicted that Oscar nominees and a Farrelly brother would hop on board.
“It was a serendipitous festival and meeting,” Laurenzo says of connecting with Bobby Farrelly, co-director of There’s Something About Mary at the Independent Television Festival, which was screening Girl Night Stand. “My producer, Rob Moran, knew [Bobby] and I were both at this festival and connected us. Bobby and I sat and chatted. He agreed to read Lez Bomb, and he came on as executive producer.”
As for Lez Bomb’s cast (which includes film and comedy heavyweights like Bruce Dern, Cloris Leachman, Steve Guttenberg, and Kevin Pollak), Laurenzo says, “it was a matter of getting them the script. It’s hard getting a script cast with a low budget.” Fortunately, Pollak’s agent sent the script to the actor. He loved it and signed on, and the actors kept on coming. “They all loved the message of the film, and that it was being delivered through a fast-paced comedy.”
“Fast-paced” can also describe Lez Bomb’s 15-day shooting schedule. Laurenzo shot the film in her childhood home and at her mother’s motel. She wore a lot of hats during production.
“As far as acting,” she says, “I was lucky if I got more than two takes.”
Directing, on the other hand, “was a matter of sticking to story and vision despite fighting daylight and dealing with freezing New Jersey weather in December.”
Laurenzo and her team often had to improvise. A key scene involving the main characters Lauren and Hailey was originally supposed to take place outside, but shooting day brought one of two snowstorms that would hit during filming. Thinking quickly on her lunch break, Laurenzo reconfigured the scene with Lauren and Hailey lying on a bed in an empty motel room.
“Luckily,” Laurenzo says, “I had a fantastic team: supportive, collaborative and positive.”
Laurenzo drew heavily on her own coming out experience in creating Lez Bomb.
“The characters are inspired by my actual family,” she says. “My grandmother never threw a turkey on Thanksgiving, though I wish that had happened!”
Feelings-wise, she says, “the emotions Lauren’s navigating… were very much the emotional arc I went through. However, in real life, it took a few years to fully process, while in Lez Bomb I’m trying to cram all those emotions into a 48-hour period.”
One scene hit especially close to home—when Lauren breaks down in front of her mother, played by veteran character actress Deirdre O’Connell (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).
During the first take of that scene, Laurenzo says, “there were some technical issues, and Deirdre said, ‘I don’t care if the technical stuff isn’t perfect. That was it. It broke me. Well done.’ And she gave me a heartfelt, motherly shoulder grab and put her hand on my cheek. It meant so much to me.”
Laurenzo’s next role is exclusively on-camera. She appears in The Green Book, directed by Peter Farrelly, the other half of the Farrelly brothers.
“Bobby Farrelly came on to executive-produce Lez Bomb in 2016. We were in post[-production] on Lez Bomb for a large part of 2017,” Laurenzo explains. “I got my hands on The Green Book script and was like, I have to audition for this!” After submitting and winning a role, Laurenzo approached Peter on set and told him about the connection. “He was like, ‘yes, I heard about Lez Bomb!’
“Watching Peter work with Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali and Linda Cardellini was one of my favorite experiences to date,” Laurenzo adds. “I was like a sponge, trying to absorb it all.”
Laurenzo is now developing her next feature film, which she describes as “a big ensemble comedy,” as well as a TV series based on Girl Night Stand. She was part of SHOOTonline’s New Directors Showcase, which led to signing with the agency, Untitled, Inc. as a commercial director. No doubt, big things are on the horizon for this DIY sensation.
Hopefully, she’ll steer clear of flying turkeys.