From 2005 to 2007, I lost five members of my family and two close family friends. The grief seemed unrelenting; every few months brought another funeral. I had already been developing Ten Stories Tall, sketching characters and storylines and playing with themes and ideas, and when my brother died in 2005 from organ failure brought on by his alcoholism, the focus of the whole project started to shift.
After Michaelâ€™s death came my uncle, my aunt, and my father. I was giving eulogies, comforting relatives, grieving, and watching how each member of my family grieved. Everyone processed these tragedies differently: we all needed different things, and expressed ourselves uniquelyâ€”and surprisingly. All of it went into the script. I wanted to create a film that people would not only find entertaining and cathartic, but would also commiserate with; something in which they would find empathy and understanding. In America we donâ€™t like to talk about death, which can make grieving a very lonely process. I wanted to give audiences a way to talk about it all: grief, death, forgiveness, and hopeâ€”and to be honest about the pain, the humor, and the stuff of life.
As two New York families grieve the loss of a beloved matriarch, death takes center stage in their own daily struggles: Charlie, who refuses to treat his heart condition in spite of his girlfriend’s challenges to fight; Jackie, who can’t reconcile her mother’s secrets with the life she lived; Alain, whose alcoholic brother lays dying in hospitalâ€”and insulting anyone within earshot; and Josephine, whose hard-earned sobriety has left her feeling simply dead. Soon, death becomes a force for startling revelations in their livesâ€”and spurs unexpected journeys of self-discovery.