Last week, we got joined writer/director Jonah Feingold, and actors Catherine Cohen and Brian Müller, to chat about their Tribeca breakout, Dating & New York. Narrated by doorman Cole, the film which has been picked up by IFC for a September release, plunges us into the waters of the modern dating world via the latest app, MeetCute. Curly-haired cutie Milo (Jaboukie Young-White), who thinks of himself as a “between relationships dulah”, matches with sarcastic millennial Wendy (Francesca Reale), a girl afraid of commitment and real human connection. Their friends Hank (Brian Müller) and Jessie (Catherine Cohen) also get a decent amount of screentime with a budding relationship of their own, including a hilarious impossible hunt for an affordable NYC apartment.
The movie’s fairy tale Disney inspiration, filming on location in New York City, improv percentages, and that ending—Allison and I break it all down for you in our spoilery chat for dreamy rom-com, Dating & New York! Read on for our exclusive interview with Jonah, Catherine, and Brian!
I think Allison and I both agree that Dating & New York is one of our favorite films from Tribeca this year. Huge congrats on the IFC pickup, and I can’t wait for this film to find a wider audience. What has been the most exciting part about the journey of this movie for each of you?
CATHERINE COHEN: We had so much fun on set, and it was this small tiny little family hanging out. Now that we have fancy pictures of us at Tribeca, it’s like, ‘okay’! Sometimes, you make something, and you forget that people are actually gonna get to see it one day. So often you make something, and no one ever does see it. So we’re just happy that people are actually watching it and liking it. It’s been so fun seeing the response.
BRIAN MÜLLER: This whole thing has been a gift, just how well it’s being received, and the fact that it’s going to be in theaters, and that it’s in Tribeca. We made this little thing, and then all of a sudden… I’ve been in movies that took two plus years to come out, and it can be a bit of a slog. So for this to feel so realized…
I think when we saw one of the final cuts ready to show the actors, when we watched it, we were just blown away. How realized it was. I think from that point on, I was maybe more expecting what is happening now to happen. But before, when you’re making it, you never know. You’re just having a good time on set with the people that you like. It’s just been a gift.
CATHERINE: Filming it before the pandemic, and then seeing an early cut during the pandemic, I was like, ‘will we ever get to be inside at dinner with our friends again?’ And so to celebrate the release of the movie, by getting to see each other at the same time, it’s just feels extra special.
JONAH FEINGOLD: I would echo everything they said, and also, I think it’s been really cool to meet other filmmakers. I’ve seen a couple of the movies as well. It’s funny how there’s a lot of through lines within these movies. I think I was watching the Hannah Marks film—there was literally a scene at a diner where they’re talking about the rules of the relationship. And I was like, wow, here’s a completely different movie. Completely, tonally different.
I guess it’s a rom-com too, but they have this scene. It’s interesting to see all these films that got made at the same time, and the cultural connections between all of them. That’s been really cool, and meeting other filmmakers and getting to see each other again. A lot of us hadn’t seen each other since we shot the film in 2019. So that’s always a fun sort of reunion to get that back.
Why don’t we start off with a fun little icebreaker question: what’s your craziest dating story?
CATHERINE: I have so many. Where to start… I think that maybe the most interesting one is that I was trying to do an open relationship a few years ago, when I met Brian at a party. Then we started dating…fast forward a few years, we’re getting movie married, which was very funny. I was cast in the film before Bri was and some people were like, ‘oh, did you meet doing it?’ But we were dating before.
Then Jonah brought us all together by chance. It’s cool to make a rom-com with the person you’re actually in romantic love with. I hope we stay together. We had a little get together last week and I was like, ‘it’s so good we’re still together.’ Be so awkward if this came out, and the pandemic had ripped us apart.
JONAH: When we were making the movie, I was thinking, ‘oh God, it’s going to be tough to go on dates during the production of this film.’ Even after the production of the movie, people might ask ‘what’s the title of your movie,’ and it’s called Dating & New York. ‘Oh, let me guess you made a movie. You’re gonna make a movie about our date.’ One of the interesting things about this is none of the dates that actually happen in the film are based off of anything I’ve ever been through.
We’ve all run into an ex somewhere, and we’ve all been catfished to a certain extent. We’ve all had an ex. So they’re all these things, but the part that is deeply personal to the connectivity of my personal life when it came to dating was just the way in which it was told—a sort of optimistic, positive outlook on relationships. I’ve been criticized by some of my past lovers for living in a fantasy land, much like Milo, you know? That’s the interesting dating tidbit when it comes to the film.
CATHERINE: I think what I like about the movie is that you can see where everyone’s coming from. Even if they’re doing something you don’t agree with, or you don’t like, I get—it’s complicated, baby.
I loved the whimsical feel of the movie. Did you have a primary inspiration for what is essentially a New York fairytale?
JONAH: Really the music is the way you explore that tone. So you start to temp scenes with stuff; it was Marriage Story at first, which has a really great score. Then we went even more Disney where we were temping with the Ratatouille soundtrack. Then eventually Bella Notte—where they first kiss, it was the original needle drop there. And then we couldn’t do B-roll of New York because everyone was wearing masks, so we drew these tan drawings.
They ended up working beautifully, shout out to Katie Woodward and the drawings that I have up there. This is kind of finding its tone, but the tone was always light and fun and like candy. The Disney fairytale. I’m just a Disney nerd, like straight up, love those movies. I think it’s going to be a taste thing. What interesting way to look at modern romance than perhaps through a lens of a whimsical fairy tale—that was just interesting. You could make a horror movie about dating. It’s fun because you could take whatever tonal approach. It just excited me more to do something that was fun, and poking fun at the fairytale genre in that capacity.
CATHERINE: There’s so much talk about how romance is dead and blah, blah, blah, and dating apps killed everything. So I love that this has a happy ending, and shows you—I start crying—love is still real.
BRIAN: When we saw it and what Jonah and Hannah on the editing team accomplished… What’s so successful about the film is that it’s not too much in either category. It’s not too millennial, and too jargony. My parents were like, ‘we didn’t understand a lot of the jargon, but that’s okay.’ Everyone my age is like, ‘thank God.’ This isn’t like only jargon, only jargon, only jargon, or aggressively trying to be modern. That balance of the fairytale with all the modern elements is what I think is so successful about the film.
JONAH: We took a ton of attention and time for detail—if you go back and watch the movie again, there’s a lot of Easter eggs. You can look at the times, the dates, the messages, and it all correlates to the narrative of the film. February 14th is when he sends the ‘I miss you’ text, that’s Valentine’s Day. Katie 7F—her Instagram handle is Katie7F. There’s just fun stuff like that. That part was very important to us in the post-production process.
A big theme of the movie is about New York “talking to you” – have any of you ever seen signs or coincidences that feel like the city itself or your surroundings sending you messages?
CATHERINE: Well, famously Brian and I once broke up for like two months, and then I was walking down Fifth Avenue leaving therapy—three cheers for that—and we ran into each other. It felt like a total rom-com! We hadn’t spoken at all, we had not texted, it was just on the street. It was one of those moments where I was like, ‘am I in a movie right now?’ And that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been in New York. It always happens when you’re truly not thinking about it, and any time you’re like, ‘I might,’ then it never does.
BRIAN: I got off work early that day, and I was going to a premiere that night—wasn’t in the thing, just got an invite—I was wearing a suit jacket.
CATHERINE: He looked amazing, I looked horrible.
BRIAN: The first thing she said was ‘no, I’m supposed to be hot right now. Hot for this.’ You [Catherine] had shaved your legs that morning and there was bloodstains…
CATHERINE: You know when you shave too fast, it’s dry, there’s like blood running down your legs? I had that, and I was like, ‘fuck you, you’re wearing a suit!’ Oh no. But somehow he saw past it.
JONAH: New York talking to me… In my case, it was a subway sign moment, which ultimately made its way into the movie. It was Grub Hub, or something like that. I was really debating texting this one girl that I had a crush on. It was in my head the entire day. I was on the subway—it literally just said, ‘take out your phone and text her.’ Then, Grub Hub: order your Chipotle to come to your house. I was like, ‘what the fuck?’ It was just literally in my head. That’s where that entire thing came from. It’s also a light homage to LA story, which is a great Steve Martin movie where this billboard sign talks to him.
Do you think Jessie and Hank move a bit too quickly romantically speaking, or is the pace just right for their relationship?
CATHERINE: Brian is having a panic attack now because we don’t live together yet.
BRIAN: What’s fun about our characters—they’re these foils to the main storyline, and it’s like everything they do wrong, we do right. I liken it to Hamlet. I’ve always hated the character of Hamlet, and I’ve always loved the character of Laertes. From my vantage point,Hamlet is this completely inactive character who cannot make a decision and then Laertes, his total foil. We’re there for our own storyline, but we’re there as much to exemplify what this main couple just can’t seem to do. I think all that made really fun.
CATHERINE: What I’ll also say, bringing it back to reality—I tell my friends who are single, there’s literally no such thing as a bad sign or a red flag. You never know how something’s actually gonna unfold. There’s no perfect way. So for me, it works for Jesse and Hank, but also Milo and Wendy find their happy ending too. There’s no rules, baby.
JONAH: Is it that they move quickly, or that Milo and Wendy move in perpetuity for years. There was a day in the edit where we thought, do we make it somehow look as if they’ve been dating for like 10 years, and they don’t age? Hank and Jesse grow old together, but Milo and Wendy are still somehow magically 25. Should we, can we date? That never came to execution, but that was a conversation in the edit.
So much of the dialogue, conversations, and arguments in the film feel entirely natural and organic. Was there a lot of improvisation, or was it mostly as scripted?
JONAH: What do you guys remember? How do you guys remember it going down?
BRIAN: I remember a lot of improv.
CATHERINE: It was a lot of improv. What do you think?
JONAH: I can sort of pinpoint percentages of who had improv and who didn’t, because we were looking back at the script… Wendy’s lines are pretty much 99% to the book. Cat, I would say your lines are almost like 98% off book, which we love. We were initially like ‘okay,’ because we’re just starting to work together. We should use the instruction book, and then we’ll go from there. Brian, I think maybe you’re at 60% cause we would do it, and then you would find some new life into the words, and bring something really fun to that.
Then Jaboukie is probably 40 or 50% in the sense that there are certain lines, like ‘actions speak louder than captions.’ Even ‘between relationships doula for women’, I don’t remember if that was improv or not, but it was a mixture. Certain actors, like Arturo Castro—shockingly, he really wanted to do it to script, which surprised me. Having worked with some comedians, in the movie I was like, ‘oh, I think comedians just love improv.’ Arturo was like, ‘no, I want to do it to the book.’ And I was like, ‘whoa, okay.’ We’ll do that. Jerry’s very to the book. Then of course, Alex Moffat, improv king. You’re not going to stop Alex from doing what he does. Yeah. That’s my answer. I remember it well.
BRIAN: There’s the dinner scene, where we get into a little spat, and that was where we’re just going off book here. We’re just going to see what happens.
CATHERINE: I hurt his feelings.
BRIAN: I was like, I didn’t like that. That’s so bad.
CATHERINE: Don’t mess with me then.
One of the cutest moments between Jessie and Hank is when their agent gets them to say “I love you” spontaneously after they commit to the apartment. Brian and Kat, what were your favorite moments with this couple?
JONAH: Shoutout Sondra James!
CATHERINE: I think we had the most fun when we were having dinner with Milo and Wendy at the Bryant Park grill scene, when we could show them what it’s like to be in a fun relationship. We just had fun with them.
BRIAN: Yeah. That whole day was really fun. It was late. It was overnight vibes. Later that night is when we’re in the background of that one scene, ferociously making out, to which I was like, ‘I’m happy that we’re doing this together and we’re not doing it with some other actor.’
CATHERINE: In the wedding vows portion, I say something about how he texts. I used to get mad at him because he’d be like, ‘ha ha’ or just like a text. That is not enough. I need more. So I brought that in—it was fun to try and make him laugh, or just trying to affect each other through the lines of the characters was fun.
BRIAN: I think out of anything I’ve done, this is the most similar to me, which was nice. I’ve done a lot of cops and guys with thick New York accents. It was just nice and easy. I wasn’t as used to working in the improv space. Whenever we would do scenes together, she was completely so fun to play off of. It just forced me to be in the moment. I remember we did the scene where we are going to move in together. You can’t plan. Absolutely nothing. Play off of her, which was easy, but it was like, ‘oh, we’re doing this now.’ We’re doing this on camera! But it quickly fell into place. I was going to follow wherever she leads.
Jonah, I legitimately did not realize you played Mort, Wendy’s not-really-6 foot 2 flop of a date, until the second time I watched the film. I did a double take honestly. Was it important you to to have a memorable cameo, and is this a trend you think you’ll continue in future projects?
JONAH: It was key. It was a transformative role. I spent a lot of time prepping for that one, many years. That’s actually just half my face. It was CG. We got ILM to come in and do some work for that, the way they did Mandalorian. I think it’s important to make fun of yourself, lightheartedly of course. I do like the idea of having sort of Spike Jonze-esque cameo roles in all of my work. Not so much because I think it’s a narcissism thing so much as it’s a fun moment for audiences to make that connectivity.
While you’re still in the movie, it still draws your attention. Whenever I would see directors in movies, I’d be like, ‘oh, that’s the director!’ I always loved doing that when I watched stuff. It’s a guy you’re supposed to laugh at, not with. That was the only character in the movie that really had no serious emotional stakes. Trent’s character is a douchebag, but that’s an important scene that needs an important actor. Arturo Castro is a douchebag, but again, that’s a heavy comedy scene.
It was perfect in terms of, I’m down to make fun of myself for being five eight or six two. Shoes off, I’m six foot, but shoes on, I’m six two. That was why it worked out the way it did. It was two in the morning. I didn’t want to call anyone. I was like, we’ll handle this here. You know? So that’s how it came to be, but I do love that scene.
A question for all three of you: do you think “Best Friends With Benefits” can really work?
BRIAN: I think it could potentially work for a very short time, but anything longer than a short moment it’s no. I don’t think so.
JONAH: I think that it cannot work, but I do think that friends to benefits could work, meaning that you start off as really good friends, and you turn that into something more. You have to make the clean jump, but I don’t believe you can do the middle ground.
How much fun was it to film all around NYC, and do you have a particular favorite location you were able to shoot at?
CATHERINE: The ferry? It was cool. We didn’t expect it to be so cold, but it was sick, and the guys on the ferry were so nice. It was very much like ‘we’re making a movie’ and they’re like, ‘that’s awesome, do whatever you want!’ So it was a fun day.
BRIAN: The subway station, when after the party, he sees the ad. I mean, I grew up in New York, and being at subway stations—then being with a camera crew, actually filming something and having to deal with the subway coming in… Just having to deal with New York in that way, it was so fun. It’s like what you dream about doing.
JONAH: I love the subway. I would say for me it was a scene where Francesca is getting a text message on a bench in Washington Square Park. On that particular day, we had a 16 foot Dolly track. Everyone’s watching because they recognize her, or they think they recognize her from something. ‘Who is this person?’ They see us, and there’s literally tourists being like, ‘can we take a picture?’ Who do you think this is? And they’re like, ‘we want a picture.’ They wouldn’t answer. She had some Stranger Things fans show up as well.
That was a surreal moment because my friend, Dante Basco, who actually gets a shout out in the movie, played Rufio in the film Hook. He was nearby. So he showed up to set, and we had this track and the monitor and it’s 20 degrees outside. We’re doing a Dolly shot, and everyone’s watching, and you’re in Washington Square Park. It’s a surreal moment where New York, the city, the actual monuments in the city become part of your set, and therefore are now part of the movie. For that moment in time, that’s your set. That for me was my favorite. It’s just outside, and you’re like, wow. You’re not on a stage, you’re not in an apartment. Literally if I want to go walk around the set, I’m where I’ve hung out every single summer growing up.
The very end is a bit more cynical than the rest of the film. Why did you choose to close it out on a bittersweet note, and do you think Milo and Wendy eventually got back together again?
JONAH: Trust me, it was a tough decision to make, and it felt more real to me. I didn’t think those characters were going to immediately get to happily ever after. Hank and Jessie—a hundred percent. They’ve had a nice trajectory. They’ve worked out their shit. They’d been honest with each other. They like each other. Milo and Wendy were so zig-zag that I was like, how do we do this?
Some people are really responding to that ending in a positive way, and some people have their takes on that ending. I love it. I’m here for that. That’s what we’re here for. I think it’s supposed to be funny. Do I think they stay together? No. We actually got an email from someone who watched the film and he loved it, and lives in New Jersey. His name is Brian, shout out Brian. And he was like, ‘I need to know how these characters end.’ He’s like, ‘by the way, when that little app notification came up, is that because one of them gets back on the app?’ And I was like, yes, you nailed it.
If you look closely, the home screen is Wendy’s home screen. So that phone background is of course from the opening sequence. It’s the same one as her, same app arrangement. So the idea is that Wendy’s phone pops back open. She redownloads Meet Cute. So it’s up to you to decide.
BRIAN: It’s emblematic in what is successful about the movie. It’s this fairy tale thing, but it’s also grounded in this modern flair of it. Back in the day, it would have been the happy ending, where they walk into the sunset together. It’s this modern thing. Back then, you worked at a company for your entire life, and now no one has a job for longer than like three months. That speaks to the nature of the film.
My mom did call. She was reading the IMDB reviews and stuff. And she was like, ‘two people were so upset by it.’ Better to be upset than feel nothing.
JONAH: We’re trying to make people think with this. Hamlet, it’s all Hamlet at the end of the day.
Dating in New York, AKA Hamlet. Did you guys have any upcoming projects or anything you wanted to plug before we finish up?
CATHERINE: People can listen to my podcast if they want to have a dating podcast, called Seek Treatment that I host with a comedian named Pat Regan. If you want more about modern love.
BRIAN: You can watch season one of Bridge and Tunnel on Epix, I’m one of the regulars on that show. We’re waiting to hear about season two, but you can check out the first season on Epix.
JONAH: You can find me in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, walking around, always location scouting. My next film is one set in the restaurant and culinary world about a guy that opens a bar, and the critic that slams him a bit. They fall in love, and it’s Chef meets You’ve Got Mail. Brian and Cat, you’ll be getting a phone call at some point next week. Don’t worry about that. That’s what I’ve been researching and prepping for next.
Thanks again to Jonah Feingold, Catherine Cohen, and Brian Müller for chatting about Dating & New York! The film screened as part of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, and will be coming to theaters and digital platforms in September from IFC Films.
Read my full review here.