It’s been said of New York that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
If that’s so, La Cañada High School graduate Andrew Rhymer has taken a big step forward with his romantic comedy “Plus One,” which recently won an audience award at the city’s Tribeca Film Festival.
With his friend Jeff Chan, Rhymer co-wrote and co-directed the film that premiered on April 28 and won the narrative audience award shortly afterward.
“Screening the movie in front of audiences for the first time was something I’ll never forget, and winning the audience award was a true shock,” said Rhymer, who graduated from LCHS in 2004 and earned a degree in film and television from New York University in 2008. “We hadn’t expected it at all and were so happy to get to share that recognition with all of the people who worked so hard to bring the movie to life.”
The film stars Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine as longtime friends Ben and Alice, who agree to become each other’s “plus one” as they go to a succession of weddings. It recently finished a six-day run in Laemmle theaters in Pasadena and Santa Monica and is available through video-on-demand platforms including YouTube and Apple TV.
Rhymer said he believes viewers will think of weddings they have attended and be entertained.
“A lot of what we thought about was building this movie in a way that you watch it and have that knowing sense of ‘I know that speech’ or ‘I’ve been to that wedding before,’” Rhymer said. “I think that’s sort of the fun and the game of it. I hope there’s a little bit of a getting-into-their-feelings with it. It is ultimately a comedy, and I hope people can have a good time with it.”
La Cañada Flintridge plays a prominent role in the movie, which was made for less than $5 million.
“We did not have a lot of money to make it,” Rhymer said. “Especially for a wedding movie.”
Chan said Rhymer’s knowledge of LCF made it possible to pick areas, such as the La Cañada Flintridge Country Club, that could double and triple as locations for multiple weddings.
“It could be a reception desk or a pool at a wedding,” Chan said of the country club. “It was super helpful to have La Cañada. His mom’s house is there. We shot there as well. I think La Cañada is a wonderful town. It reminds me of Ridgewood,” the New Jersey village where Chan grew up.
Several wedding sequences also take place at La Cañada Congregational Church — also known as the Church of the Lighted Window — Rhymer said.
“We were very clever,” Rhymer said. “Our producers and our production designer and the whole creative team were very clever in the way we designed everything, just because we had a pretty low budget.”
Kate Rhymer, Andrew’s mother, said her front yard and the interior of her house were used in the movie frequently.
“It’s very recognizable, if you know my house,” said Rhymer. “When the lead, Ben, pulls up, it’s supposed to be his father’s house. But when he pulls up it’s my house.”
She added that her late husband, Andrew’s father, was also a screenwriter. Don Rhymer, who died of cancer in 2012 at 51, was known for his work on film comedies such as “Big Momma’s House” and “Rio” as well as numerous television shows.
Andrew Rhymer and Chan began working on “Plus One” five years ago after friends started to get engaged, though the filmmakers noticed how some friends tended to get in and out of relationships.
“I think there are obviously a lot of great romantic comedies,” Rhymer said. “But there are also plenty that reflect things in a sort of unrealistic way. It’s all about the ‘meet cutes’ and ‘I want this guy or this girl’ and also a lot of the stakes in movies about love are big, structural things keeping people apart. I feel like a lot of my friends get together or break up because they start dating a friend or then they … freak out and blow up a relationship. [His film’s approach is] maybe less cinematic but felt more honest and more real.”
Rhymer, 32, said he understood that a two-sentence description of a comedy movie about two friends who go to weddings sounds like a lot of films that had been done previously.
“But wanting to make something that felt reflective of our experience and what we see around us and what our friends go through is what made us stick with an idea that seemed like it had been done before,” Rhymer said.
Rhymer, who now lives in Silver Lake, said it was “hugely important” to have a diverse cast in the film, which features co-lead Erskine, who is partly of Japanese heritage.
Chan made it clear to Rhymer that he doesn’t see people “who look like him” in American romantic comedies, and it was clear their friend Erskine was a great fit, Rhymer said. But she was also a risk because she was not widely known (though she is currently on the Hulu comedy television series “PEN15”).
“She was incredibly talented but certainly needed a case to be built with her to our financiers and they heard us out,” Rhymer said. “Jeff made a very impassioned move to cast her and to their credit the financiers took the chance.”
Chan, who is Chinese American, said the move was cast before “Crazy Rich Asians” had come out and he had never seen an Asian lead in a romantic comedy like this film before.
“Andrew has been a good friend of mine for a long time and heard me rant and rave about the diversity problem in TV and film,” Chan said. “He was just as into the idea as I was. We were always trying to find someone diverse to play either role. It’s not written for any particular ethnicity. … I knew it would be great. We both did.”
Ben Stiller’s production company, Red Hour, is behind the film, and though the actor read the script early on, he didn’t have a lot of “direct connection” during the process, Rhymer said.
“He hadn’t actually seen the finished product until it premiered at Tribeca,” Rhymer said. “He was on stage with us after the premiere and joked about feeling ‘lucky’ to have been involved. Obviously, it was the other way around. We were lucky to have the energy, enthusiasm and support of his company to help us navigate the perils of making an independent feature all along.”
Rhymer, who vividly remembers taking then-LCHS teacher Bob Phillips’ media arts class, said he feels as if he has “done just about every job” in the entertainment business — including serving as a production assistant trying to calm a noisy New York construction crew working near a film set several years ago — on the way to his success with “Plus One.”
When asked if the journey was worth it, he answered with a smile:
“Oh yeah, absolutely. For sure.”
For more information on the film, visit instagram.com/plusonemovie or facebook.com/plusonethemovie.