Movies with themes about hard-hitting subject matters can be difficult to watch and discuss, but sometimes they contain some of the most important messaging and conversation starters, as is the case with Sony's newest movie A MOUTHFUL OF AIR. I was able to interview writer/director Amy Koppelman and Amanda Seyfried, who plays Julie Davis in the movie, about the importance of the film.
Our interview with Amanda Seyfried and Amy Koppelman was joined by Dr. Harvey Karp, renowned pediatrician and founder of HappiestBaby.com.
Goals of the film A MOUTHFUL OF AIR – Amy Koppelman interview
In talking with Koppelman, one of the goals of the movie was to show the dichotomy of postpartum depression (PPD). Depression isn't always dark and emo. Often with postpartum depression, moms are especially likely to try to hide behind that smile and pretend as though nothing is wrong because that is what society dictates.
“The thing that was most important to me was to have a character that you saw, see all the beauty in the world, loves her family, loves her children—and so loved…and still thought the world would be better off without her,” Koppelman said. “And so I wanted to show that she had both those things within her.”
Seyfried discussed that one of the challenges with Julie's story—and one of Julie's struggles—is that it just doesn't make sense to her, or to Ethan. It's confusing to Julie, feeling so badly yet so desperately wanting to feel good and seeing the beauty in her children and in the world.
Koppelman reminded us that A MOUTHFUL OF AIR is a cautionary tale. There are happy endings, and Koppelman is one.
“What if I hadn't gotten the help I needed? What if I didn't take the medication, but I am the happy ending. And I want anyone who sees it to be their own happy ending. I want them through Julie—who's a fictional character—to be able to empathize with her and hold her in her head as this kind of manifestation of what a depressed mom can look like,” Koppelman said. “And to not feel shame, and to look at Julia and realize what a good person she was and how desperately she wanted to be there for her kids.”
“Our hope is that in some tiny, tiny little way, however, if we save one life, Amanda and I will feel so good, like that we helped somebody get that happy ending.”
Challenges of Funding A MOUTHFUL OF AIR
Seyfried discussed what made her choose to get involved in a project with such a dark yet important subject matter.
“There are no stories told in this very specific way, which is from such a compassionate place, a very feeling place,” Seyfried said. “I just wanted to embody this character, because I understood it as a parent at the baseline level…how scary it is to be a mom.”
Seyfried believed making a movie that explored not only this character's specific emotional and mental struggles but that she and Koppelman needed to tell the story together
But there were logistical struggles, Seyfried said.
“It was really hard to get this movie made. Just in general, it's hard to get people to want to invest in something like this, which is why it's so amazing that it got made and why I think it really is gonna help generate some change,” Seyfried said.
Challenges of portraying Julie – Amanda Seyfried interview
With any acting job, it's hard not to take your work home.
“The struggle was just not taking it home,” Seyfried said. “This stuff that's really, really hard. You don't want to take it home. I feel like this taught me to be more present with my daughter—I had just one daughter at the time—because I felt so lucky that I wasn't struggling the way Julie was, and I also knew how many people are struggling and how people how many people will struggle.”
Screening for PPD
Dr. Karp gave some great insight into standards of care for women and screening for postpartum depression. The current standard is that mothers should be screened for PPD during pregnancy and then at least once postpartum (the standard is from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.)
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends screening the new mother at infant well visits. The AAP has expanded the screening recommendations to the 1-month, 2-month, 4-month, and 6-month well visits.
If you think you’re experiencing PPD, reach out and ask for help. PPD is treatable with therapy, medication, helping you and your baby sleep, and other therapeutic techniques.
Why we don't talk about mental health?
It's pretty widely known that mental health is still very stigmatized in this country. Like the rest of our health care system, mental health care access and coverage is lacking, but the fact that it is so stigmatized certainly doesn't help the situation.
Seyfried was open about her OCD and how she's been called out by people in her profession for talking publically about it. That's just one example of the stigma people with mental illness face.
“It's just scary to talk about because mental illness is scary, Seyfried said. “It's still stigmatized because people are still not talking about it. And at the federal level, it's still not recognized as something that is common, and access to any kind of health care is still not very affordable.”
Mental health would likely be less stigmatized if more people were to talk about it and recognize it's something many people struggle with. More people need to talk about it to make society as a whole more aware. Awareness can go a long way toward de-stigmatizing the label of mental illness.
Talking about mental illness makes it more real. Real can be scary as hell, but it can also open you up to healing.
It Takes a Village
“Another big factor, why people don't want to know about it, is because that means that they have a responsibility to act, Dr. Karp said. “One of the things we're trying to do is get federal and state legislation in place so that we have more centers and more supports, not just for women with depression, for women with babies.”
One of the things that COVID exposed was that working women are working double jobs, and working men, as well, who have young children at home.
“When I would always teach my families, is the only normal family is the one you don't know very well because you just start asking questions. And everyone's got a story to tell. And I think that one of the goals of this movie is to have conversations about how parenting should be, Dr. Karp said.
In other cultures, women are surrounded by 5 women, washing their feet and making their favorite foods. In the U.S. we're basically telling moms to suck it up, deal with it, and don't complain about the crying by the way.
“The sad thing is—and the thing we have to change first—is that women accept that, they buy the lie. They believe, ‘Yeah, I'm supposed to do it all. It's what a mother does.' No, that's not what a mother does. A mother has never done this in the history of humanity without support, without training, without that type of backup, Dr. Karp said. “So it's really recognizing with so many other countries recognize that social services are not a handout. They are strengthening the fabric of our society.”
About A MOUTHFUL OF AIR
Julie Davis, warm, kind, loving to her husband and child, is a bestselling children’s author. While her books deal with unlocking childhood fears, she has yet to unlock the dark secret that has haunted her own life. But when her second child is born, events occur that bring that secret to the fore, and with it, a crushing, powerful battle to survive.
Director/Writer: Amy Koppelman
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Finn Wittrock, Paul Giamatti, Amy Irving, Jennifer Carpenter, Michael Gaston
Runtime: 105 minutes
Trigger warnings: suicide, depression
In theatres October 29, limited release