Donald Petrie, the director of iconic romantic comedies such as “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” and “Miss Congeniality,” dropped in to speak to Montclair State University’s virtual film forum class on Tuesday, Feb. 23.
Listening to Petrie speak on his growth as a director was inspiring as I realized that the man behind the classic films was once just a college student who, at the time, did not know his path until he started acting towards his interests, just like many of us.
Petrie has directed many movies over the last few decades that will forever remain in the hearts of romantics.
“My movie is like a party,” Petrie said. “I’m the host. You’re my guest. I want everyone to feel free and have fun.”
I remember watching “Miss Congeniality” and loving the fact that Sandra Bullock plays a fierce and competent woman in a man’s world. Petrie’s films gained such traction due to his tendency to promote strong, autonomous women through his lead characters.
In “Mystic Pizza,” three young women go around societal norms to find their own identity and make their own paths without being stereotyped. In “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” a young journalist, played by Kate Hudson, wants to write about politics instead of men and handbags. In “Little Italy,” a young overachieving chef wishes for bigger things to happen in her career.
These films all exhibit different types of women in different job professions, cultures and environments, and they all have one thing in common: by the end of the film they find themselves in whatever way possible.
Throughout the class, Petrie told stories about his life and gave tips on becoming successful in the business.
Michael Groves, a junior film major at Montclair State, described the forum as an intimate conversation with a passionate filmmaker.
“Donald explained that the director’s two biggest jobs are to listen and to make decisions,” Groves said. “He was more than willing to answer any questions the class brought up and I hope he comes back to Montclair [State] soon.”
An interesting fact he shared with the class was that he was not the original director of “Miss Congeniality.” After receiving the original script, which was simply a comedy about pageants, he decided he did not like it. Five drafts later, he finally said he wanted a Mel Gibson, tough as nails, little, crazy FBI agent and that in order to do a man’s job in a man’s world, she would need to go undercover.
From there, Petrie said all they did was write and shoot.
Isabella Wnek, a sophomore communications and media arts major at Montclair State, spoke highly about the director.
“I found Donald Petrie to be a very passionate and enthusiastic director whose greatest effort is to create critically-acclaimed projects,” Wnek said. “I really liked how he values each of his crew and cast members to create the best film he possibly can.”
It is evident that Petrie was meant for show business, as he says he loves the spontaneity of his job and the fact that every single movie is a new story even if we all know the guy ends up with the girl. According to him, he likes his work to have some kind of grounding to reality, even in the humor.
“Once you are deemed an expert at something, it means you know how it’s used to be done,” Petrie said. “Learn how to learn [and] learn how to have a passion for learning as you become a student for the rest of your life.”
By the end, the film forum class had a lot away to take away from the discussion.
Petrie has a lot of wisdom to share that does not only radiate through his demeanor, but also through the countless films he has directed, portraying young women who rebel against stereotypical norms by paving their own paths in life.