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Review And Interview:

‘P.J.’ reflects change in many lives

November 12, 2008|By Van Novack

Shearson is fighting his own demons and has retreated to the relative isolation of the graveyard shift in order to avoid confronting them. He becomes determined to produce a breakthrough with P.J. as his fed up supervisor, Stan (Robert Picardo), threatens to send the patient to a hopeless state mental facility if he is unable to do so. Eventually Shearson enlists the assistance of P.J.’s estranged girlfriend Shelly (Patricia Rae) and his own orderly Burt (Vincent Pastore).

According to Emanuel, the story appealed to him very much due to its universal message and the international applicability of the story. The film “embraces everybody,” which embodies Emanuel’s personal philosophy. Originally from San Francisco, Emanuel grew up in both the United State and Japan, where he attended high school. He graduated from USC where he studied international relations, Japanese and cinema/television. Accordingly, Emanuel is more or less a citizen of the world.

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Reportedly, “P.J.” had a total budget of about $1 million, less than the cost of one minute of “The Dark Knight.” Emanuel describes the film as a labor of love for both him and his partner, “P.J.” star Howard Nash. The movie is based on a play by Mark McQuown originally presented in the 1980s. According to Emanuel, much of the film’s script follows the play very closely. However, in the screen adaptation, Nash and Emanuel added two characters, Burt the orderly, and his co-worker and budding romantic interest, Mariah (Lavinia Dowdell).

Most notably, an entire sequence taking place two weeks after the principal action was added by the filmmakers. This action takes place in the daytime as opposed to the preceding action, which is set entirely at night in the interior of the hospital. Emanuel notes the two weeks after sequence completes the character arc of all the roles. The final scenes also make it clear that P.J. entered the other characters’ lives to help them rather than the other way around, as it initially appears.

Considering the film’s budget and limited distribution, the presence of fairly prominent actors is somewhat surprising. According to Emanuel, John Heard is a friend of Howard Nash and fulfilled a promise to appear in the film if the filmmakers were able to arrange financing.

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