Film & Television

Crossing the Hollywood Gender Divide

YBTS-OneSheet_040316R Year By The Sea, directed by Alexander Janko.

Alexander Janko never met a gay man who thought he was straight.

Sitting across from this handsome hyphenate—he’s a 46-year-old writer-director-composer—I must admit I’m a little confused, too. He’s eating a salad (no dressing), but wearing khakis I saw my dad sport 20 years ago. He also exudes a startling passion for his current project: a film about women.

Middle-aged women.

Year by the Sea tells the story of an empty-nester who runs away from home to learn who she is beyond the roles she plays. It’s about the ebb and flow of life and the evolution of self; about realizing we’re all as unfinished as the shoreline along a beach. [Last week we posted the story of actress Karen Allen, who, at 64, plays the film’s leading role.]

His hands animate his words, so it’s easy to be inspired by his excitement. Yes, I’m the first to cheer on a movie about women in the middle, but I’m still struggling to understand exactly how a man can be so compelled to tell this story.

As it turns out, Janko knows a little something about evolution. His career began as David Newman’s orchestrator, then evolved when he composed the score for the original My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But when his first child was stillborn, his entire world derailed. “Basically, I ran away from L.A. and retreated to the woods of western Mass.,” he says.

After he and his then-wife were blessed with a daughter, Janko started writing. His screenplay is based on Joan Anderson’s three New York Times best-selling books, A Year by the Sea, A Walk on the Beach, and An Unfinished Marriage.

I didn’t choose Year by the Sea,” he explains. “Joan’s story chose me.”

Turns out he means that literally—the hardback appeared on his kitchen counter after his then-wife picked it up at a book swap. He read the opening line—The decision to separate seemed to happen overnight—and was hooked. Three hours later, he’d tracked down author Joan Anderson’s literary agent and landed a meeting.

But why a then-39-year-old man continued developing the memoirs of a 50-something woman into a movie script still won’t compute.

“Joan’s story reminded me of a grade-school friend’s mother who disappeared, then returned one year later,” he explains. “I finally understood. Like Joan, she’d taken a sabbatical to find herself. I think it’s something all women should have the chance to do, even if just for a weekend.”

The more I learn about him, the more it starts to make sense. His father’s a retired gynecologist, and Janko spent much of his youth tagging along on house calls. In addition to being raised by his mother and two older sisters, he got his primary education at an all-girls’ school. By the time he got to college, he’d been hardwired by myriad feminine influences since birth.

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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. April 20, 2016 at 8:28 am

    I can certainly understand the impetus to ” “take a sabbatical to find herself. I think it’s something all women should have the chance to do, even if just for a weekend.” Where is my weekend?