“Along Came Wanda” is an affable road movie about Mary Beth Higgins (Constance Brenneman), who is encouraged to go on a trip with her friend Wanda (Cathy DeBuono). Mary Beth is finalizing her divorce from Bill (Max Adler), and Wanda provides the change agent she needs to process her emotions. Wanda is everything Mary Beth is not — self-assured, badass, and a lesbian. She loves camping, and takes Mary Beth out in her van, which doubles as her business; she makes and sells soup. To aid in Mary Beth’s search for self-fulfillment, Wanda takes her first to a meditation center and later to her psychic friend Davina (Roberta Hanlen). As Mary Beth processes her thoughts and emotions, Wanda hopes for love.
DeBuono’s relaxed, engaging presence as the title character makes “Along Came Wanda” enjoyable. She provides comic relief and good vibes in his go-with-the-flow road trip. The out actress spoke with Gay City News about her new film.
How do you identify with Wanda? Are you self-assured and gutsy and badass? Do you like camping? Do you make great soup?
I do like camping, although it’s been many years. Wanda is still in touch with her inner child in many ways. She’s at the other end of the spectrum from Mary Beth, who lives life inside the lines and according to societal protocol and what’s expected of her. Wanda grew up without a family or a home and without a lot of guidance, so she lives in the moment. That’s what we see happening. She craves the roots and home life that Mary Beth has, whereas Mary Beth craves what she sees in Wanda, the fly-by-seat-of-your-pants kind of thing. I identify with that childlike approach to enjoying moment. That can be very alive in me at times.
Wanda has this energy, which is attractive. What can you say about the film’s themes of taking risks to find yourself? Wanda doesn’t take many risks in the film. She is the guide.
Wanda is the catalyst for Mary Beth taking more risks and leading her through that process. Wanda’s risk is opening herself up to Mary Beth. She’s taking that risk before she even recognizes it. It grabs her by surprise and she’s not sure what to do with it. There’s that journey for her, too.
You tend to be cast in roles that play up your sex appeal as a lesbian icon. What can you say about your casting? You give a relaxed performance here, providing comic relief and even getting a dramatic scene. Usually you are playing a seductress.
I think it’s been fun to play with that aspect of [my image]. What I love is being able to step away from that and play Wanda, who is not that. She’s a very different character than I’ve played in the past, and that allows me to bring all the different sides of myself to the table. You’re right, I haven’t had the chance to do physical comedy before, which is fun for me. When I read what Wanda is like and how she approaches the world, I began to manifest her in my body… I am a goofball, which is something people are surprised to discover. Wanda is not a seductress, but she is seductive to Mary Beth because of her playfulness and who she is, and it’s more about her heart than her wiles.
What do you think the dynamic is between Wanda and Mary Beth as they go to the meditation center and meet with the psychic?
For Wanda, what we are seeing, is that she lives in the moment, which is diametrically opposed to Mary Beth, and Wanda is hoping to wake Mary Beth up for that more. This is Wanda’s survival method. If you have lemons, you make lemonade. If you have clementines, you make clementine spiced soup. That’s what you do. She can’t wait to show that to Mary Beth. What we learn about Wanda at the meditation center, is that it is not because she’s buddha or Zen master, it’s how her survival mechanisms have tipped the scales and brought her too far in one direction. She can be very in the moment, but Wanda can’t sit still with herself — she can’t ground or root; she has to keep moving. Mary Beth is just the opposite and the hope for the journey for the two of them is that we watch them meet in the middle. We see Mary Beth calm Wanda’s innards a bit and bring each other more towards the center. Divina was the one who took Wanda in at an early age and gave her guidance and took her under her wing, so what she’s learned about life she’s learned from the psychic: live in the moment and enjoy what you have when you have it. So, you don’t worry about needing roots or home or family, although Wanda craves those things.
Can you describe a memorable road trip you’ve taken?
I was shooting a documentary five or six years ago and I got to travel across country with two friends and our dogs in their RV, and that was amazing, but the really amazing thing was when it was time to go back from New York to Los Angeles. It was just me and my dog in an SUV and all my production equipment in back. You’d think it would get lonely, because it takes several days to drive back, but I wasn’t. I was so happy to be with my soulmate moving through the country. Road trips are inherently about living in the moment because they are all journey and there is no destination until you get to LA. It’s all journey in the middle and being in moment. Taking in scenery, eating when you’re hungry, and sleeping when you’re tired. There’s no schedule.
What is your secret to living your best life?
I don’t know if I have a secret for that, but not to be redundant, but I think it is about living in the moment when things get overwhelming, confusing, stressful, or worrying about bills, COVID, our next move, or project. Life is only ever happening in this moment. The last moment is gone, and the next moment doesn’t ever really exist—it’s always right here. If we can stop and take a breath and enjoy it for exactly what it is, then that perspective and choice goes a long way.
ALONG CAME WANDA | Directed by Jan Miller Corran | Available February 14 on Digital platforms | Distributed by Buffalo 8.