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Interview: Tyler Taormina on Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point

A black and white still of director Tyler Taormina overlayed on a photo of people gathering around the Christmas table in his film Christmas Eve in Miller's Point

We interview writer-director Tyler Taormina on his new movie Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point, which had its World Premiere at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival.

If we were to ask you about your holiday traditions, everyone would come up with a different answer. But there are certain things about how we experience Christmas that are universal, from the anticipation for the festivities and the pressure to make it all worth remembering to how overwhelming the night itself is, and how nostalgic we feel when it’s all over. In his new movie Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point, which had its World Premiere at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival in the Quinzaine des Cinéastes strand, writer-director Tyler Taormina (Ham on Rye) beautifully portrays both the chaos and warmth of Christmas celebrations while also taking us on various journeys with its many protagonists.

Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point takes place on the titular night, when four generations of the Balsano family gather in their Long Island house to celebrate the festivities. As the festivities continue, various members of the family quickly divide themselves into groups, assembling in various parts of the house, and teenagers Emily (Matilda Fleming) and Michelle (Francesca Scorsese) sneak out into the night. Featuring a huge ensemble including Michael Cera, Elsie Fisher, Sawyer Spielberg, Maria Dizzia, Ben Shenkman, Gregg Turkington and more, the film wonderfully captures a familiar feeling and will make you nostalgic for a specific time in your life. We spoke with Tyler Taormina about the movie: read the interview below!

Tyler Taormina Wants Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point to Feel Like a Warm Hug

Thank you for talking to us today! What does it feel like to bring your film to the Cannes Film Festival?

Tyler Taormina: It’s seriously overwhelming! I’m incredibly shocked, and grateful for the experience.

The movie opens with a line dedicating it “to the lost, hoping they might find their way home on Christmas Eve”. At the Q&A after the first screening, you talked about how significant it is for it to take place on Christmas Eve, the day before Christmas – and also a few days before a New Year begins. Why did you choose to focus on this specific occasion?

T. T.: The setting of the film is incredibly personal to me, because it’s the place where I grew up, in Long Island, New York. It’s also the place that I left when I was 18 years old, to explore the world, so it remains sort of a distant part of my life that I’m trying to understand and reconcile.

A huge part of this has to do with my family being still very much there: it’s very normal for people to in my family to leave their hometown. So, I look to the holidays, because Christmas is truly the biggest moment for a family in the year. In my case, and in the case of many people around the world, it’s when you see everybody in your family – sometimes even just once! It becomes a real charged moment of togetherness. “Charged” not even just in terms of tension, but in terms of… “like e”Enjoy it while it lasts, because we won’t see each other again for a while.”

An old woman with a red sweater sings in front of a table, where a toy Christmas town is placed, in the Tyler Taormina film Christmas Eve in Miller's Point, featured in the Loud and Clear interview
Interview: Tyler Taormina on Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point – Mary Reistetter in a still from the film (Carson Lund, Omnes Films)

My Christmas looks very different to what you’re portraying here, and yet I still recognize myself in the vibe I got from it. You managed to portray both the pressure there is to do something exciting, and the excitement of being together, but also a certain sadness that accompanies it all. What would you like your film to say to audiences?

T. T.: I want this film to feel like a warm hug on a very cold night – the kind of warm hug that reaches the point where it becomes a little sentimental, and possibly existential. You know, like when you embrace someone for so long? It’s both sides of the coin in one moment: both the happiness and the pain of losing, together. I think that these things are naturally going to come in the way that I express myself [in a film that’s set during Christmas]. I just enjoy this experience so much, but at the same time, when you value something so much, you have so much to lose.

The Characters of Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point and the Element of Performance in the Film

There’s an element of performance that I really appreciated in the film. So many of your characters feel the need to perform at some point during the night: many people play the piano and sing, and then there’s someone reciting lines from a play, and so on.

Tyler Taormina: I find that In much of America, there is a sort of aversion to creativity in the everyday life of average working people. This could be extended to an aversion to art, or even further, to something spiritual or actually truly religious, like performative Christianity. So it really touches me to see, observe, and imagine these little seedlings of that creative spirit in people that are coming in a context where they’re not exactly welcome.

The character that stood out the most to me is a boy played by Lev Cameron: while most of the other people in the family eventually end up being part of a group, it feels like he’s on his own, observing everyone and even acting as a sort of narrative frame. We really empathize with him, as an audience.

T. T.: He certainly is a presence that has this creative spark in him, and does not seem to have the ability to foster it in his life at all. It seems like it’s completely being stamped out of him, and I think that this is a great sadness. He’s a very beautiful, vulnerable person who gets his joy out of making his family laugh.

And then there are the two policemen, Officer Gibson (Michael Cera) and Sergeant Brooks (Gregg Turkington), whom we see once in a while, and who are the only prominent characters that aren’t really part of the family. Why did you decide to add them?

T. T.: I see the film as sort of a game: we have this room with a family, where there’s a lot of comfort, and a sense that it’s easy. There are an identity and a set of values that just pre-exist there, so it kind of represents a state of stasis. And then there’s the lead [Emily, played by Matilda Fleming] escaping – the “leaving and finding yourself” part. But if you go too far, the police can get you and bring you right back home. And if you manage to escape them and go too far, you can end up like the character of Splint [the local stoner], played by Sawyer Spielberg.

It gets so absurd in the scene where the two policemen talk to one another! I really love the humor in those scenes, and in the second half of the film in general.

T. T.: The movie starts in a familiar register, in terms of genre and references. And then, when Emily sneaks away and it becomes later and later in the night, the energy disappears from the family, and we enter other territories, in terms of tone and cinematic reference point. Their humour is a way to represent that.

Michael Cera stands dressed as a policeman in the snow at night  in the Tyler Taormina film Christmas Eve in Miller's Point, featured in the Loud and Clear interview
Interview: Tyler Taormina on Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point – Michael Cera in a still from the film (Carson Lund, Omnes Films)

Casting and Shooting, Christmas References, and What’s Next for Tyler Taormina

How did you find your cast?

Tyler Taormina: A lot of it came from within the family – just calling all of my producers and friends, and everyone we know and asking them, “Do you have a cousin, or friend, or kid who would look interesting on camera?” That’s how we cast my cousin’s kid, my best friend’s great aunt, my mom’s cousin… And also Francesca Scorsese and Ben Shenkman [who plays a character named Lenny], and everybody.

It must have been difficult to shoot a film with so many characters on set at the same time.

T. T.: It was all very rigorously planned, storyboarded, and shortlisted. So it was just a great deal of coordination on the part of my producer Krista Minto.

How long did it take you to shoot it?

25 days.

Oh, that’s not long at all!

Our writer Bethany has this great question she usually asks, and I’m curious to hear your answer. If you had to choose another film to pair Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point with for a movie marathon, which one would you go for?

T. T.: That’s a good question! [thinks] I think it’d be interesting to watch something like Home Alone first, or Christmas Vacation. You could extend the first half of the film one or two hours more, and then the drop off into the end will be even more strange! [laughs]

I love that! It’d be a very interesting journey! Did you did you watch any Christmas films when you were making the movie, for inspiration?

T. T.: All That Heaven Allows, Meet Me in St. Louis… Things like that.

Are you working on anything at the moment?

T. T.: I’m writing a high school comedy in the style of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

I look forward to watching it! Thank you for speaking with us!

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point premiered at the Cannes Film Festival’s Quinzaine des Cinéastes on May 17, 2024.

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Header photo credit: Truman Chen (Tyler Taormina headshot), Carson Lund/Omnes Films (Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point still)

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