For Rachel Bloom and writers of ‘Most Likely to Murder,’ looking back can be cathartic

Director and co-writer Dan Gregor said “Most Likely to Murder,” which had its world premiere at South by Southwest, came from the idea of high school classmates getting back together for Thanksgiving and noticing a change in one another.

Members of the cast and crew of “Most Likely to Murder” at the Highball in Austin on March 13. From left are producer Petra Ahman, co-writer and actor Doug Mand, actor Adam Pally, actor John Reynolds, co-writer and director Dan Gregor, and actor Rachel Bloom. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Co-writer “Doug (Mand) and I were kind of obsessed with that ‘night before Thanksgiving,’” Gregor said in an interview at the Highball on March 13. “Where everyone goes to the local bar, everyone’s back in your hometown … and you are just sort of seeing all of these people from your past.”

Mand noted the vulnerability of the situation.

“You’re going there and you’re like, “What am I now?” he said. “You’re very exposed in that moment, and you’re watching everyone else. And you’re checking in on how everyone’s changed.”

“Most Likely to Murder” is a thriller comedy that follows Billy (Adam Pally) as he returns home for Thanksgiving, prepared to relive the glory days. Instead, he ends up discovering that his friends have changed and his ex-girlfriend, Kara (Rachel Bloom), is dating the high school geek, Lowell (Vincent Kartheiser), whom everyone, especially Billy, used to pick on. As a way of setting things straight, Billy attempts to prove that Lowell is a murderer.

Gregor and Mand’s decision to combine the comedy and thriller genres derived from their interest in noir and Alfred Hitchcock films, with the goal to make the emotions in this movie more intense.

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Gregor talked about his own experiences being both a bit of a nonviolent middle school bully and the subject of bullying in high school, and said the film was one way for him to express what he wishes he knew then.

“This movie in a lot of ways is a way for me to express that regret and that apology, too,” Gregor said. “I wish I could go back and talk to my former self and teach him empathy even younger. And just say people are people.”

Bloom, best known for her work on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” said her experience playing Kara gave her former teenage self some release. During one scene, Kara gets to tell Billy off, years after he broke her heart.

“The ability to act that out in a scene, I really, really related to it. It was very cathartic,” Bloom said. “And I think a lot of girls feel that you look back on that guy that you were in love with in high school, who seemed so cool. But then you think about it in hindsight and think, he wasn’t cool. He just quoted ‘Family Guy’ a ton.”

Gregor said they wanted to give Billy an appropriate ending, one that didn’t fall into the male fantasy trope that one decent act can undo all the bad things done over a lifetime.

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Bloom said that one of the things she admires most about Gregor and Mand’s comedy writing is that they are able to incorporate emotion and heart that explores the human condition in their jokes.

“I really love how emotionally deep the movie gets,” Bloom said. “Something that really sets them apart as comedy writers is that a lot of guys who write comedy write it very mathematically. And they write it very like it’s all about the premise, and that it’s mathematically hitting the best jokes possible, and the sensibility tends to be kind of mean with that.”

“Most Likely to Murder” is Gregor’s feature film debut. He and Mand have previously written and produced for TV shows such as “How I Met Your Mother,” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”

Gregor spoke to the differences of working on a film versus working in TV, noting that while TV directors are immensely talented, the job of a TV writer more closely resembles that of a film director.

“The writers on a TV show are much more the auteur voices and shepherds of the whole project,” Gregor said. “So in that regard, as writer-producers on TV for many years, Doug and I, that was really a vast majority of training for directing film. In film, the director is sort of the shepherd of the process.”

Pally, who has acted on shows such as “The Mindy Project” and “Making History,” said he was excited to have the premiere at SXSW.

“I love South by,” he said. “Everyone’s been so nice to us, and it’s really cool to have a festival where the fans can get in and see the movie, and it’s not just industry. It’s great.”

“Most Likely to Murder” will be available on digital, VOD and DVD on May 1.