The Unlikeable Fuckups of Edy Modica
Nicole shows the frustration and bitterness that can come out of being left on the margins.
By lizzie racklin
Recently, some friends and I were discussing those people who are annoyingly perfect. Those people who excel in school and sports, volunteer on the weekends, have lots of friends, are close with their family, look pretty when they cry, and, on top of all of that, have the audacity to be genuinely kind. Every envious instinct wants to find a flaw; it should be easy to hate them, but by all measures, they are a truly good person, so you can’t even resent the lifetime of success that is coming to them.
Nicole, the title character in Edy Modica’s short film, is not one of those people.
“Nicole” (written by Edy and co-directed by her and Ian Faria) follows, in Edy’s own words, “a loser trying to get a coffee Coolatta.” Nicole spends her day begging to borrow cars, manipulating high school bullying victims into giving her a ride, and trudging through her hometown only to find that Dunkin’ is closed for the day.
Brash, aimless, and bored, Nicole is angry at nothing in particular, which means she’s angry at everything. She pisses everyone off, but is blind to her own offenses—they’re all either overreacting or being insane. More than anything, Nicole is stuck.
Over Zoom, Edy (a comedian and rising superstar) tells me that Nicole is an amalgam of people from her childhood in Nyack, New York, where the short was filmed. Growing up without money, she noticed the contrast between the wealthier arts scene and the poorer areas.
“I have a lot of drug addicts in my family and people who are stuck. And they want to change, but they don’t have the resources to even know how to do that…There’s anger there, they resent everybody else, it’s everybody else’s fault. I’m obsessed with people like that,” she says.
Rather than create a rags-to-riches redemption arc about a girl with a dream, Edy’s Nicole shows the frustration and bitterness that can come out of being left on the margins.
When pitching a series version of “Nicole” to Adult Swim, she sensed that the producers wanted Nicole to have more direction. But to Edy, “[Nicole’s] dream is to smoke weed all day and not have to do anything.” Adult Swim passed.
The execs’ hesitance to adapt this as a series suggests that they don’t know what to do with low-income and working class characters who don’t buy into the ideal of reaching success through sheer hard work—and they think that we as viewers won’t know what to do with them either. Maybe aimlessness is a luxury we are used to affording only to those whose financial situations don’t breed dreams of upward mobility. Edy’s characters—and the people she knows—resist the tropes that media often assigns to them and refuse to validate the American dream.
When you think of the most beloved antiheroes of prestige TV—Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White—you can see a pattern of men coming from unstable situations and finding morally questionable paths to financial success. These complicated men are at times hard to love, but audiences find a way. They admire their grit, their tenacity, and their determination to change their circumstances. What if, instead of clawing (anti)heroically to the top, they sloshed around in their unfortunate origin stories and weren’t even trying to find a way out? Would we still find their stories worth telling? The answer is usually no; we expect main characters to grow and change, even if for the worse. Characters who go nowhere are kept in the background.
Nicole is what happens when one of these background characters is brought to the forefront. It turns out that the lives of those wacky, often static sidekicks are just as interesting as the lives of more traditional main characters with dreams of going to the big city. You just have to stick with them long enough on their walk to Dunkin’.
“In so many movies, I feel like side characters are my favorite part,” Edy says. “Like, I love that crazy-ass bitch. I wanted to make something that was only about those people.”
Edy bestows Nicole with a kind of adamant purposelessness, intentionally creating a difficult main character. She revels in the uncomfortable aspects of Nicole’s personality; she knows it’s likely that the most positive thing viewers will feel towards Nicole is sorry for her. Still, you can’t look away. You want to know what conflict she’ll create with the next person around the corner.
On her journey to Dunkin’, Nicole encounters a neighbor that hates her (Rachel Kaly), a high school classmate who kicks her out of the car after a few blocks (Francesca D’Uva), some parking lot lowlifes (Michael D’Addario, Brian Fiddyment, Johnny Gaffney, Steve Girard), and a “vampire” who’s named himself Bloodstone (Sam Lanier).
In the parking lot, Michael D’Addario of The Lemon Twigs plays the ringleader of a group of guys who we can assume spend a lot of time hanging out in front of that exact convenience store. Looking for a female vocalist, he sings Nicole a song about water, our “lifeblood” but also “the same very substance that floods [his] basement…and is ruining all [his] memorabilia.” The song is a brilliantly written, failed attempt at profundity, sung very close to Nicole’s face with intense over-pronunciation. Along with the raging metal soundtrack of the rest of the short, you get the sense that, yeah, everyone is awful, but they’re screaming because they want to be heard.
Nicole herself spends a lot of time screaming—at her mom (played by Edy’s mother Marsha Lustig), at a Dunkin’ employee (Chase Montavon), at a girl who ends up shoving her onto the pavement (Alexis Giovinazzo). But in the final scenes, she meets Bloodstone, who seems to mellow her rage. A stranger with piercings, suspenders, and pupil-altering contact lenses, Nicole’s only real issue with him is that he calls her “milady” because she doesn’t like “oldentime things.” Without ruining the ending, I’ll say that their budding friendship dies before it can really begin.
Of the conclusion, Edy says, “I wanted it to be someone who is also a freak in this way that makes her feel comfortable…I wanted it to feel like she finally found someone she can just be herself with…But then she even fucks that up.”
When talking about the look of the film, Edy references But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) and “fucking Wes Anderson shit.” She loves colors, and she likes things to look cool.
Edy’s belly button piercing has now closed up. She’s bummed.
“Nicole,” shot by DP Alex Bliss and Ian Faria, is full of sweet, sticky visuals that evoke a kind of mall-based self-care. Bath & Body Works Sweet Pea lotion, lime green acrylic nails, a bright teal PINK sweatshirt, and, most importantly, an infected belly button piercing with a dangling guitar charm.
“It’s just indulging…and immediate satisfaction,” Edy describes. “Because you’re miserable, so you’re just trying to fill your day with anything nice.”
That’s why the fact that Nicole never gets her Coolatta is so heartbreaking. For Nicole, the blended coffee brain freeze was the light at the end of the tunnel that day; it was Holy Communion, and Dunkin’ was church. Instead, she ends up on the cold beach, vampire contacts stinging her eyes as she screams into the dirt.
For Edy, the future seems much brighter.
Moving forward, she’s hoping to explore similar characters. Though she mainly wants to pursue acting, she finds herself getting pulled towards writing and directing in order to create the kinds of roles she wants to play. She’s currently working on a feature with financing from Brain Dead Studios. In the movie, she’ll play a man in his 50s who works at a restaurant with his brother, played by Edy’s dad, Paul, in his screen acting debut. When Edy’s character, who lives on a cot above the restaurant, finds out that his brother is selling the place, he goes on a bender, causing chaos.
The feature is informed by real-life experience—growing up, her dad managed a steakhouse in Times Square, and Edy has often worked in the food service industry. She explains that her character, loosely based on her dad and her late uncle, isn’t a bad guy, he’s just a complete fuckup who always leaves his brother to pick up the pieces. Like Nicole, he has nowhere to go.
To Edy, these fuckups are the real stars. And it looks like she might be right.
Watch Nicole here. Find Edy here and on TVs everywhere. And lastly, go to her dad’s restaurant, Home Kitchen on 84th Street !