A Family Affair – A romance that explores the complications of love, sex, and identity

Solomon had worked as an assistant to an actor who was starring in a Broadway play when inspiration struck: What would happen if a young woman were working for a theater actor and she came home one day to find him sleeping with her mother?

“My parents were going through a divorce around the same time, and I was being faced with the job of taking care of someone as their assistant and also taking care of my parents simultaneously as grown-ups,” Solomon says. “Those two storylines very much intersect in this movie, and the rest is just my imagination running wild with a pre-existing circumstance.”

Solomon’s initial idea became even more delicious one night in late 2019 when she was dining at a chic Hollywood restaurant – she remembers Jennifer Aniston was in the house, and maybe Chris Hemsworth too – with Roth/Kirschenbaum Films’ Alyssa Altman, one of A Family Affair’s executive producers.

Solomon suddenly saw a new wrinkle to the story: Make that young woman an aspiring producer who works as an assistant to a petulant A-list movie star who ends up falling in love with her mother.

“Immediately at that dinner I was like, ‘OK, this is the story,’ and it came together from there,” Solomon says. “I think I rewrote it in two or three weeks over Christmas, which is one of the reasons why it happens then. I love the concept of movies taking place over Christmas but not having anything to do with being a
Christmas movie.”

When Zara (Joey King) quits her job as the personal assistant to Hollywood heartthrob Chris Cole (Zac Efron), she unwittingly sets the stage for a chance encounter between Chris and her famous writer mom, Brooke (Nicole Kidman). It’s only a matter of hours before Brooke and Chris realize they have an undeniable chemistry, which leads to laughout-loud consequences as Zara’s egocentric boss attempts to woo her incredulous mother. This multigenerational, coming-of-age romantic comedy follows each character as they face the tangled complications of love, sex, and identity.

Solomon saw herself in Zara, played for big laughs and with a lot of heart by Joey King, but she wrote that character specifically to upend how we see young women in rom-coms.

“I wanted this to be different. I really wanted to write something with a young 20-something woman at the center of it, but where her personal love life wasn’t mentioned once,” Solomon says. “I wanted absolutely zero reference to Zara’s dating life because there was so much more of her to explore.”

Instead, Solomon crafted a nuanced script that follows each character as they learn what makes them happy and fulfilled – and, in the case of Nicole Kidman’s Brooke – give themselves permission to embrace that happiness.

There’s joy but also pathos and messy heartache as they stumble toward a new sense of self. Along the way, A Family Affair casts a gimlet eye on the singular bond between mothers and daughters and the overlooked theme of how friendships can be complicated but ultimately anchor us.

Solomon found a kindred spirit in Lagravenese, the director who’s also a celebrated screenwriter known for his work on The Bridges of Madison County, The Mirror Has Two Faces, and Living Out Loud. Together they polished the original script to add depth and dimension to the coming-of-age stories that give the
movie so much heart and soul.

“The minute we got to work in the same space, our creativity just fed into each other’s and we connected,” Solomon says. “I think our senses of humor were very aligned. Where Rich always reminded me to lean into truth, I always reminded him to lean into comedy and absurdity. And those two things complemented each other so well, and you can really feel that tonal match in the movie. I think both of us are really proud of learning to balance each other and make it a team effort.”

Says Nicole Kidman: I thought, “This is so what I need to do right now.” I had done a number of very hard-hitting, dramatic roles, and I was in a place where I just went, “My psyche is in desperate need
of some love and some laughter and some fun.” And along came Carrie’s script and I thought it was laugh-out-loud funny, so I just went, “Yeah, I’ve wanted to do a rom-com for so long and I rarely do them. I hope audiences smile. I hope they feel loved up. I’m always looking for something that I can watch with my 15-year-old daughter or my husband, Keith, or I can just curl up and watch something again that feels very comforting. There’s comfort and laughter and joy in this film, and that’s part of the Netflix experience – feeling good.”

“The interesting thing about this story is it’s not just a love story between a movie star and a writer,” says Zac Efron “It’s also a movie about family and the importance of having an open heart and an open mind and working with them through hard times and believing in them. That’s hard work, and there are ups and downs, but stick with it because it’s worth it. It’s a tough combo. This film actually has a lot of layers – romance, drama, comedy, a lot of heart, and watching people grow and evolve. The stakes are high enough to where it doesn’t feel silly and there’s a lot of humor in some very tense moments. It’s a careful balance, and I think this movie handles it really well.”

“I hope people see that parents are people too, and they make mistakes and do things that maybe their kids don’t like or don’t agree with. But at the end of the day, they’re still people,” says Joey King.”My character, Zara, is not a kid – she’s 24 – but she’s still Brooke’s kid and kids make mistakes and have growing pains. I think the sweetest thing about this movie is that you have all these different relationship dynamics where no one is initially hearing each other but eventually learn how to listen and find happiness.”

How did you come onboard as director?
When my agent first sent me the script, I didn’t quite relate to it. But then my life changed: I came out late in life and then I read the script with new eyes. I suddenly saw the storyline of Nicole’s character, Brooke, as similar to what I was going through in my own life – a second adulthood and coming into my own truth and a more authentic sense of self and embarking on love in a new way. That felt like something I could connect with.

What excited you about Carrie Solomon’s script?
I thought it was wonderful, smart, funny, and had great energy to it. It was very important to Carrie that Joey King’s character, Zara – who is 24 and the same age as Carrie when she wrote the script – that she did not have a love interest, that it was about finding her place in the world, finding her identity. I thought
it was a terrific script, and it was a little bit of a high-wire act, because on one level it’s a romantic comedy, but on another level it’s a coming-of-age story for these three main characters. It’s an unusual, not your straightforward romantic comedy, which I liked about it. It was really fresh.

This isn’t your standard romantic comedy. How do you describe the movie’s tone?
It’s a comedy with some deeply felt human moments. It’s a character story with a great deal of humor and a great deal of honest sentiment, because it’s also a mother-daughter story between Nicole and Joey’s characters. Especially in the scenes with Zac and Joey, I tried to give them a screwball comedy kind of
pacing, because my favorite films in that genre have fast-paced, back-and-forth dialogue, and Joey and Zac have terrific chemistry together. And then there were moments where the movie slows down a bit more and gets more into character.

What do you want audiences to take away from A Family Affair?
When I directed this film, I wanted it to be a relaxed, elegant, fun story with ease and grace and with nothing too heavy about it. I want viewers to feel that and know that no matter what stage of life we’re at, we’re always growing up. That’s the exciting part about living – there’s always more about us to learn and to open ourselves up to. This journey of becoming our authentic selves is infinite and always fascinating.