Film Reviews

L!fe Happens director Kat Coiro grew up at South Beach's Tap Tap

Film director Kat Coiro is having a busy month: wrapping up one film with A-list Hollywood stars, competing at the Tribeca Film Festival with another, and preparing for the premiere this Thursday of a third film, L!fe Happens, starring Kate Bosworth and Rachel Bilson.

She's come a long way from her childhood home: the apartment above Haitian restaurant Tap Tap in South Beach.

Her parents, Peter Eves and Gina Cunningham-Eves, started the restaurant about 20 years ago. They're of English and Italian-American descent, not Haitian, but the family has strong ties to the country that stem from the early '90s. It was then that the would-be restaurateurs visited Coiro's godmother, Katharine Kean, on the set of a documentary shot in Haiti called Haiti: Killing the Dream. The family was motivated to take six Haitian refugees into their home in Key Largo.

"One of them, his whole family had been killed in a firing squad in front of him. He was also supposed to die, but he didn't," Coiro says. "The refugees who lived with us, some of them got married in our living room, and we still talk to them all, and these people have families now. It's pretty amazing."

Her parents' love of Haiti's food and culture prompted them to open Tap Tap, which they sold in recent years. But the family left its mark: Peter handcrafted the intricate mosaic that adorns the façade.

While her parents worked at the restaurant, Coiro enrolled in Interlochen Arts Academy, a renowned boarding school in northern Michigan, in ninth grade. But she always looked forward to returning home to Miami, and not just to escape the snow (though she does recall a few times when the drifts piled up to the windows of her second-floor dorm room). She spent summers living in her family's apartment above Tap Tap.

"I love Miami. I always have," Coiro says.

She taught theater at the University of Miami summer arts camp and studied theater and Russian history at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. She then studied directing at the Moscow Art Theater in Russia before moving back to the States — first to New York and then Los Angeles. In California, she made the connections that allowed her to put together a hilarious short film that would launch her career.

The three-minute film stars Janeane Garofalo, Kate Bosworth, Zoe Saldana, and Jason Lewis (the hot object of Kim Cattrall's cougarism on Sex and the City) and parodies the notion that people can't be both attractive and intelligent. Within one day of being posted on the website, it received half a million hits.

At the time, Coiro and her creative partner Krysten Ritter had already written the script for L!fe Happens, a comedy about the difficulty of balancing old friendships with the demands of motherhood. And Bosworth was looking to move her career into comedy. When the actress signed on to Coiro's project, the pieces quickly fell into place for the film's production.

"Nobody really thinks of [Bosworth] as a comedic actress," Coiro says. "So I had this script which was then called BFF and Baby, and we'd been working on it forever, and we couldn't really get it off the ground. As soon as [Bosworth] signed on, we got Rachel Bilson to then sign on before we got any financing, and with those two it became a real movie."

Inspired by male buddy films such as Swingers, Coiro and Ritter had long wanted to create a "girls behaving badly" flick. But it wasn't until Coiro, the first in her circle to get married, had her daughter that destiny delivered the blueprints for their eventual movie.

"I was driving around with Krysten in the car one day, talking about this idea: 'How do we make a female buddy comedy? What's the secret? What are we going to do?' Then we pulled up and there were some cute boys in the car and Krysten was sort of flirting with them. And they looked back and saw the baby seat and sped away," Coiro laughs. "It was a moment where we both kind of looked at each other and said, 'Oh, my God,' and that was the first scene that we wrote, about the character flirting with some guys in the car, and the baby cries, and they speed off as quick as can be."

So how has her Miami heritage infiltrated her film production? Coiro says that more than anything, it's in the music. L!fe Happens, for example, opens with a hip-hop track. "People always comment on it because it's kind of incongruous with the two white girls going around in a Prius. That's something that I definitely took away from Miami — I have this very wide taste in music, and I think it really comes out in my movies. It comes from being at Tap Tap and hearing the Haitian drums, and then hearing the radio music in Miami, which is totally different from radio music everywhere else. It's that eclecticness that is really unique to Miami."

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Camille Lamb Guzman is a journalist who writes on wellness, travel, and culture. She is also finishing a book of creative nonfiction.