Amanda Kramer shot the gender-critique Please Baby in an icy stronghold of manliness

Amanda Kramer is thinking a lot about gender lately: Her new film, Please Baby Please, stars Andrea Riseborough and Harry Melling as a 1950s couple who start to rethink their traditional gender roles after a run-in with a seductive biker gang. Filled with West Side Story-inspired set pieces, appliance-assisted S&M jokes, and the best-delivered one-liners this side of John Waters, it’s exhilarating, funny and sincere, all at once. 

To film Please Baby Please, Kramer chose what may seem like an unlikely locale for an interrogation of gender: Butte, Montana, a former copper boomtown built on the backs of manly men. Kramer found it to be accommodating and big-hearted. 

Please Baby Please, which also features Demi Moore, Karl Glusman and Cole Escola in prominent roles, is out Friday, and is the bigger of two films Kramer has coming in the near future: It recently screened at the Fantasia, Rotterdam and Edinburgh film festivals with Give Me Pity!, a hilariously dark reimagining of a 1980-ish variety show led by Sophie Von Haselberg. “It makes me feel like heroes of mine — like the Fassbinders and the Soderberghs — able to make high and low, big budget and small budget movies at the same time. I can make a movie happily at $200,000, I can make a movie happily at $2 million — and I think that’s best for my artistic soul.” 

In this piece, she talks about the objectives of Please Baby Please, and how Butte turned out to be the perfect place to tell her story. — M.M.

I don’t have many friends with children, but the few that do have children, have boys. It’s overwhelming to me that even in 2022, as modern as we are with gender conversations, the first toys are baseball gloves, and very quickly, trucks. A truck? Why would a boy like a truck? Why not a sensible sedan? It’s what we know societally to be male. And I think for some people, it’s the beginning of a trajectory. Soon, they get toy guns. And for girls, it’s the same. The first thing you get is your own baby doll. So that you can be a mommy. You’re two and you’re holding your baby. I had a kid kitchen and 10 babydolls. How shitty is that!

People say they want subtlety in dialogue, they want a kind of realness that skates around discussion. But when I wrote this movie, I just wanted to speak directly. I wanted a character saying out loud, I felt forced into acting like a male and I don’t want to do it anymore. I just want to sit back and relax, and not have to worry every minute: Am I presenting the way that I need to be presenting? And I think Harry gives that speech quite beautifully. And it’s very mesmerizing, honest and funny.

Also Read: Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker, by Ti West

I’m a straight woman who has always felt estranged from the ideal “femme.” Especially in my teens and twenties, I was totally outside of fashion magazines, makeup, form-fitting clothes. I mainly saw it as fuss, not fun. I wanted that natural cool vibe so many of my boy friends had. The 21st century is pushing to correct all the stereotype nonsense we suffered in the 90s. In my high school there were a few boys who wanted to dress like Courtney Love, a few girls who wanted to dress like Kurt Cobain, and everyone else just went to their gender-designated side of The Gap and that was that. 

It’s one of the coolest conversations that has come about in this moment of awakening and action for the LGBTQ+ community: They are leading a movement that is having a great trickle-down effect on straight cis people who think, I need to be a little freed of this ancient oppression as well — these strict blue/pink categories are not for me either

Harry Melling and Andrea Riseborough in Please Baby Please by Amanda Kramer

Harry Melling and Andrea Riseborough in Please Baby Please by Amanda Kramer

To film Please Baby Please, we were looking all over the world. We needed to find someplace that you could turn into 1950s New York City. And as everybody knows, unless you’re Martin Scorsese, you’re not going to do that in New York City. Because you can’t just shut down Manhattan and say to your production designer, “Cover this entire ugly Citibank!” And Butte, Montana has a downtown that feels out of time. It’s unplaceable: There’s ‘80s architecture, ‘90s architecture, ‘50s architecture, ‘30s architecture… earlier! Montana is an incredibly welcoming state as far as filmmaking is concerned. Once they started shooting Yellowstone a lot of people were bringing in productions, and the Montana Film Office welcomes you warmly. Everyone is so amenable. There are hotels where your whole cast and crew can stay, untouched locations, empty streets. So it started to make sense for us. 

Of course, when you show up, you think, How will we pull this off? It aesthetically could work, but you’ve got to be creative. And when we arrived we weren’t sure what locations we were securing. We had one month in pre-production, and during that month we needed to be asking, “What street can we vibe into 1950s Manhattan? What bar can work, what street corner?” And that’s a chaotic thing to figure out very fast in only one square mile. You’re not receiving photos. You’re just standing in the middle of a bare room looking at your cinematographer: “I think if we just face this way, it can work.” 

It was during COVID, but it was also winter in Montana. So almost everyone was inside and it was dead quiet. The ghostliness of freezing Butte, Montana.

We did the exterior scenes and dance numbers at 10 below zero at three o’clock in the morning. You know when you watch The Revenant or something, and he’s wearing a full fur pellet and hat? You feel less pity for Leo. I would look at my cast, and they would be wearing something like an ‘80s leather jacket, which, let’s be honest, is paltry in weather like that. That’s like wearing a button-up. These actors are in jeans. And if you turned the camera all the way to the right, you’d see the crew in head-to-toe North Face puffer jackets and thick gloves and scarves. It was so gruesomely unfair. Seeing the actors’ breath, I remember thinking, This is gonna look like they’re all dying on the Titanic. We used a lot of fog to cover it. You fog up the streets. But they were very, very, very cold.

When you walk the main drag, the first sign you see is in the window of a restaurant: BUTTE, AMERICA. So right away, you’re like, Okay, I get it. A couple of us were in a cab, and the cab driver asked, “You making a movie?” And I said yeah. And a crew member asked, “Is this state Democrat?” And I don’t know why he would ask that — why the hell would you ask? We were days from the 2020 election. And the driver said, “We’re Democrats — but we’re not liberals.” Got it. 

It’s an interesting state. There are a lot of wealthy people there who have ranches and big homes. Of course there’s spots of redness. I found everyone to be totally inviting. There was a casual attitude of, “Oh, there go the Hollywood people,” which is so funny to say of me and my motley assembly of outsider artists. Plus one movie legend.  

There was really no one around to be background actors. We needed to trust that someone would stay safe and not bring Covid into our bubble. Also, with overnight shoots in the winter most people are entirely turned off. Zero glamour. So I got into a sailor costume and had to be my own background. Because that’s what you do. When you’re an independent filmmaker, you get into a costume when you need to. And you hide behind an actor who can actually act.

Please Baby Please, directed and co-written by Amanda Kramer, is now in theaters.

Main image: Andrea Riseborough irons out some kinks in Please Baby Please.