Paolo Pilladi takes us home with his comedy ‘Last Call’

Zach McGowan as “Dougal” and Jeremy Piven as “Mick” in Paolo Pilladi’s LAST CALL. Courtesy of IFC Films.

I got a chance to chat with Paolo Pilladi, who directed and cowrote (with Greg Lindo) his new comedy Last Call. This film is incredibly funny while at the same time nostalgic.

Last Call synopsis: A local success story and real estate developer, Mick (Jeremy Piven), returns home to his offbeat blue collar Irish neighborhood in the shadows of Philadelphia for a funeral and is obligated to stay to ensure his parents’ ailing family business gets back on course. Amidst all of this, he grows closer to his childhood crush (Taryn Manning) who is also back in town, while enduring the constant ridicule from his old hometown crew. As Mick begins to reconnect with the neighborhood he grew up in, he finds himself at a crossroads when forced to either raze or resurrect the family bar.

Last Call also stars Bruce Dern, Jamie Kennedy, Cathy Moriarty, Jack McGee, Zach McGowan and Cheri Oteri.

Paolo Pilladi. director/writer for LAST CALL. Courtesy of IFC
What inspired Last Call?

Paolo: Last Call was inspired by the working class neighborhoods that I and the co writer and executive producer, Greg Lindo, grew up in… It’s really kind of a collection of story that turned into a love letter to the mom and pop shops, the bars and the bakeries and the bodegas that make America cool. 

Can you explain the term ‘bucket’?

Paolo: So, the bar that it was named after has a nickname of the ‘ice bucket.’ A working title of the film was ‘Crabs in a Bucket’ which is a social economic metaphor for people kind of holding one another back, and it was relevant to our story in the sense that Jeremy’s character Mick had quote unquote successfully gotten out of the neighborhood, and was afraid to kind of go back because of his family and his old friends thinking he was too good for them, and them kind of sucking him back into that world. So, the bucket just became the nickname for the bar they hang out in… bucket not really a term that bars use, it just happens to be the nickname of this one bar that we were basing it on.

Did you have a specific bar in mind or was it just kind of a collection of all of the ones that made you who you are? 

Paolo: A little bit of both. There was a draft written before I came on in and it’s based on this area that Greg grew up in. It’s called the Irish Riviera because there’s just a slew of Irish Pubs, one after the other, in a very small, like one mile radius or something. And so there’s this one bar, Callahan’s Pub, which is the film that was kind of the center, but then it was the anecdotes and the characters that were formed with this, you know, combination of various kinds of neighborhood bars.

When you get to go home and you get to visit the bars that you grew up with, what’s your go-to drink?

Paolo: It’s funny, as I age, it has changed a little bit. But, where I’m from, I mean, I grew up in a very Italian American neighborhood so oftentimes you would go over someone’s house and it would be wine or whatever with some food but, now when I come back and see, like I see friends from the old neighborhood, it’s just a cold beer. Philly is very much a beer town like, even though it’s a blue collar town, it very much appears like a snobby beer town. So all the great dive bars in Philly all have like the finest, you know, kind of hipster IPAs or something like that so it’s really interesting to go to a dive bar in Philly and get some of the best beer in the world.

Jeremy Piven as “Mick” and Taryn Manning as “Ali” in Paolo Pilladi’s LAST
CALL. Courtesy of IFC Films
What was it like working with Jeremy and Zach and Bruce and Taryn and everyone?

Paolo: I mean, they’re just so talented and so much more experienced in film than I am. And life experience, in the case of Bruce (Dern), in particular, but they all happen to have luckily for me, incredible timing. So fast, so quick witted, and their level of professionalism was just tremendous. But we did have a ton of fun. This is kind of a common dramedy, a comedy with a heart, but when you get those guys in a room especially the Jamie Kennedys of the world and they just, they want to make people laugh and they do. And it was a lot of fun. From a director standpoint, you kind of always want to set a tone right so if I’m making a serious drama or a social justice piece, that I’m working on for example, versus this thing which is a working class comedy, it’s a totally different feel down to the music that I would have on during lunch during breaks. So the energy that I wanted to bring was kind of fun and almost like being at a backyard barbecue type of feel. And then you have all these legends of comedy around just constantly telling stories and cracking jokes, it really was a blast. I’m very very blessed. 

You know, with independent filmmaking, you’re doing it for the love, ultimately, I think. It wasn’t a payday for anyone which is a nice feeling because, we got stars in this film so it was nice to have them buy in. And especially, as you know, coming from an independent world, I don’t have a name for myself, per se, so having Jeremy and Taryn as a top buy in, set a tone that we can have fun but we’re also we’re not messing around. We’re here to work. And so it was great. It was a really nice balance. There was no shortage of jokes flying around but we got our work done. Here’s the thing that I think is really important with an ensemble, especially in a film like Last Call, which is a neighborhood- these guys are all middle age and, with the exception of Jeremy’s character, none of them have really left the neighborhood. So they’ve all known each other for decades. We didn’t have the luxury of months of prep and a rehearsal period, where people get to know each other, so it’s kind of like how do you build that feeling of people knowing each other for so long when you’ve just met? And so, I think, again, not only to their professionalism but keeping things light at times really helped sell that. 

Can you explain the title, Last Call?
Courtesy of IFC Films

Paolo: Well, I mentioned the working title but that’s kind of a mouthful and not everyone knows that metaphor. But with Last Call, you know, everyone knows the last call for alcohol, last call at a bar, and our family owns a bar that is generational and it’s on its last legs neighborhood. And there’s this whole gentrification plot going on that threatens to change the entire fabric of the neighborhood and kind of cleanse it of its identity. And so, there was this idea of can Jeremy’s character actually go back, is it last call for him and his family which he’s kind of put in the rearview mirror for a decade? Is it last call for this actual bar that could be going under as this potential casino project gets developed? And as far as the other characters, these guys are kind of set in their ways, they’re stuck. And I think it’s very topical for where a lot of small towns and then also neighborhoods and big cities find themselves like people who have been in a neighborhood for decades and now it’s turning and changing, and now they’re kind of stuck, they can’t afford to stay and they can’t afford to move. It’s a pinch for people so I’m happy with the title. I think it works on a couple of levels like that.

You can’t dig so deep because in the end, it’s a comedy. So, it’s not a deep dive into gentrification and things like that but I do think it certainly touches on it and I think it’s a worthy conversation because it’s very topical and then how do you balance that, right? How do you move a neighborhood forward so they don’t get left behind, but also how do you lift people up while you move forward? Right. That’s the question that we should be asking and it’s a balance, because not all gentrification is bad, necessarily, but I think it’s a real balance. I hope people get some of that out of it.

They say ‘make it specific, yet universal’ so there’s a specificity to our story, for sure, but I do think there are the universal topics of going home, of loyalty, of change, and of being resistant to change that I think people can identify with regardless if you grew up in a big city or in small town in Ohio or something. 

Well, you just hit the nail on the head because I come from a small town in Ohio.

Paolo: It’s funny because I typically write my own stuff. And I tend to do stuff that comes from the working class and my own upbringing because working class immigrant families do all that kind of stuff. This touches on some of that in a more lighthearted way, but the producers are quick to tell you, ‘make it for yourself or make it for someone specific but also make it for the kids watching on Netflix in Idaho. What part of your story is that person going to relate to and so, it isn’t always easy to do. But I do think we’ve hit on some areas that I think will be relatable to hopefully to a wider audience. We’ll see.

Is there anything else that you’d like to say about this movie?

Paolo: I just hope people come along for the ride and enjoy it and laugh a little bit because, given what we’ve all been through over the last year, you know, I think we could all use a good laugh. So hopefully audiences enjoy it and laugh.

Bruce Dern as “Coach” and Jeremy Piven as “Mick” in Paolo Pilladi’s LAST CALL. Courtesy of IFC Films
Last Call will be in Theaters, On Demand and Digital this Friday, March 19.