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Growing Pains: Interview with Catherine Argyrople

Growing Pains is a real & raw coming-of-age story about identity, sexuality, and the aftermath of surviving cancer. The film was inspired by true stories and is about growing into yourself amidst a society that ignores the serious hardships that teen girls face. Addressing disability, queer representation, and mental health. Growing Pains is a love letter for young women who have struggled to see their stories depicted on screen. One of the main characters, Zoe, is a cancer survivor who develops insecurities about her body, which stem from a cancer scar that divides her stomach in half. In an attempt to feel more confident in her own skin, she joins the crew team but then develops body dysmorphia and an eating disorder. Crew becomes quite toxic for Zoe, as she is trying to make the lightweight boat. She resorts to unhealthy habits, like using diet pills and restricting her eating.

Growing Pains was featured by Nielsen and Studio System Solutions for the Diversity Spotlight at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival! The film also received the ReFrame Stamp by The Sundance Institute and Women In Film. The stamp is given to films that have demonstrated gender-balanced hiring, with women and underrepresented gender identities in at least four of the eight key roles– including writer, director, producer, lead, co-leads, and department heads. 

The Hidden Opponent sat down with Catherine Argyrople, director/writer/executive producer of Growing Pains, to discuss the film. 

One of the main characters of Growing Pains, Zoe, is a cancer survivor who ends up developing body dysmorphia and an eating disorder after joining the crew team. How is Zoe’s character inspired by your own experience? 

As a childhood cancer survivor, I experienced a lot of struggles with my mental health and body image growing up. I have a prominent scar across my stomach that made me feel very uncomfortable in my own skin. I developed significant body dysmorphia and an eating disorder as a student-athlete trying to mitigate these self-conscious feelings, which ultimately made things worse. I found the athlete culture to be quite toxic, pushing kids beyond their limits no matter what the cost. So many of my fellow classmates and teammates developed eating disorders and resorted to harmful habits while they were trying to make weight classes or perform better as athletes.

Surviving cancer has an immense impact on your mental, emotional, and physical health. There’s so much media content about what it’s like to go through cancer treatment, but little on the aftermath of surviving cancer. I wanted to shine a light on how surviving a traumatic illness impacts your life and the mental health implications that this has as an athlete in particular. 

The other main character of Growing Pains is Nat, who is a queer Latinx teenager that struggles with her sexuality and the responsibilities placed on her by her family. What are some of the stories that inspired Nat’s character?

“Some of the stories that inspired Nat’s characters were my own. When I was growing up, my family’s business was a huge part of my life and it was always difficult to balance work, school, and life. I always knew I was gay growing up, and with writing Nat specifically, I wanted to highlight how difficult it can be to struggle with this in a Latinx household. It has to do with the culture, but also just how different generations are. Nat faces a culmination of the difficulties of discovering who you are at such a young age. I was also inspired to write Nat’s stories because I grew up not seeing a lot of representation of my life or the people who look like me. Latinx stories, families, and queer characters are what helped me know I needed to channel my creativity to present Naty and her character development.” – Mariana Fabian, Co-Writer and Associate Producer of Growing Pains

The two main characters, Zoe and Nat, are best friends. The film does not only focus on their personal struggles but also on their strained friendship as they begin to drift apart. How do Zoe and Nat’s personal struggles complicate their relationship, and how does their relationship reflect a common reality for young women in transitional periods?

Losing a best friend can feel like losing your entire world, but it's rarely given the same weight in media as losing a romantic relationship. The teen years can be so confusing and challenging– there’s so much change that happens in a short amount of time and you are in a constant state of evolution. It’s so common to drift from your friends, and this can be incredibly unnerving. 

Zoe and Nat are both going through extremely big life events and changes, but are so disconnected from one another that it causes a big rift in their friendship. Zoe is more self-centered, so she fails to check in with Nat about what she’s going through. Nat tends to be more reserved and doesn’t feel comfortable sharing her deeply personal experiences with Zoe. A major theme of the film is that someone can be going through something incredibly difficult, but you won’t realize that unless they open up and tell you what they are going through. I think it all boils down to communication– with good, open communication, you can address anything! 

Women are usually underrepresented behind the camera, making up only 24% of directors, writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers on top films in 2022. However, Growing Pains breaks this trend and features a majority female and non-binary film crew. Do you feel that having a predominantly female crew helped create a film that gave a more realistic portrayal of life as a young woman? How so?

Our film is a female-centered story, so it's only appropriate that women are both in front and behind the camera. I definitely think having a predominantly female crew made the film feel even more authentic. Growing Pains deals with some sensitive subject matter, surrounding mental health, disability, and sexuality. It was really important to me to collaborate with people who had empathy and sensitivity for the story, and how vulnerable this portrayal would be for our young actors. Collaborating with predominantly women was such a meaningful experience for me, and gave me hope for a more diverse film industry. It also was great because as producer, I had the ability to build my crew and prioritize diversity, accessibility, work ethic and talent. It was amazing to be honored by The Sundance Institute and Women in Film with our ReFrame Stamp– this was a dream of mine that came true! 

Bridging off of that, Growing Pains represents communities that don’t often get their stories depicted on screen: it addresses womanhood, the queer community, disability, and mental health. What are some of the stories that you’re most excited to share in Growing Pains?

I’m so excited to bring authentic, diverse representation to the teen-girl experience. I was tired of seeing so much inauthentic content about young women, written and directed by men. The teenage years are a fundamental time of growth and development, and there’s so much nuance that goes into that experience that differs from person to person. It’s amazing to be able to shine a light on stories not typically seen in the media, with mental health, disability, and queer representation. 

Also, as a childhood cancer survivor, it’s pretty amazing to be bringing this story to life. I have spoken with other cancer survivors who feel so seen by Zoe’s character and experience, which truly means the world to me. I was able to authentically cast Zoe’s character with the actress Molly Morneweck, who has a similar medical background to me. Authenticity and representation is extremely important to me as an artist, and I was so touched that I was able to have that accurate disability representation on screen. When you have the autonomy and ability to tell your own stories, rather than letting someone tell them for you, it’s even more powerful and resonates more! 

Based on clips, the cinematography of Growing Pains, done by Lynn Weissman, seems to be a highlight of the film. What were some of the elements that you took into consideration when deciding the overall look of the film? 

Thank you for those kind words! As a previous photographer and DP myself, the cinematography was extremely important to me. It was quite exciting to collaborate with a female DP, as the camera department is a very male-dominated field. Lynn and I did extensive pre-production work to plan out the look and feel of Growing Pains. Lynn has a great eye and is very methodical, and I appreciated collaborating with someone so detail-oriented.

I was inspired by cinematography from Lady Bird, Eighth Grade, Boyhood and PEN15. The Novice was also a big inspiration for me, and helped me visually craft how I wanted to film our rowing scenes. As Growing Pains is a down-to-earth, mumblecore film, I wanted our cinematography to reflect this realistic, slice-of-life narrative. It was fun creating color palettes for both Zoe and Nat, which reflected their different energies and personalities. 

As a Boston native who is currently based in Los Angeles, what was it like to make the movie in Massachusetts? Did your childhood influence the location, and/or were there any parts of Massachusetts that you wanted to highlight in the film? 

Growing Pains is a Massachusetts movie, through and through. I wrote the script with my hometown in mind and had the opportunity to film at locations that were important to me. The education culture in Massachusetts puts a lot of pressure on kids to perform at a high level and succeed, which inspired a lot of Zoe and Nat’s internal struggles. 

It was great to film in MA because so many people from my community helped me make the film. I truly believe that I could not have made my first feature anywhere else but Massachusetts, which is a testament to how much support I received from my community and team. It was exciting to uplift Massachusetts talent, cast and crew alike, and locations through this film.

I had the chance to collaborate with Express Gourmet in Wellesley, which is a restaurant I used to work at in high school and during my gap year. They let us film in the restaurant and catered our entire production! I filmed at the house that I grew up in, which was a very full-circle moment for me. My friend and script supervisor, Bianca Vranceanu, let our team film at her house which was so generous of her family. Another full-circle moment was collaborating with my professor from Northeastern University, Michelle Carr. She came on as an associate producer and it was extremely special for me to have such wonderful people from my community on our team. 

What advice would you give to young female filmmakers that are interested in starting a career in the film industry?

Having a vision and passion for the story you are telling is probably the most important thing for artists. Many people will try to belittle your dreams– tell you that it’s not feasible or worth pursuing. When you have a vision and passion for your unique story, combined with a belief in, nobody can take that away from you. Your unique perspective and creative vision are also what sets you apart from other artists! So many people doubted my abilities and even told me not to make this movie and it’s great to be proving all the naysayers wrong, three years later.

I’m a big believer in following your dreams and passions. I believe that storytelling and art are my callings. If you feel the same way, I hope you follow that truth and dream! In the film industry, there are many obstacles that will come your way, especially as a young woman with disabilities. Don’t be afraid to make opportunities for yourself! I made Growing Pains because I knew that I wanted to tell my own story and have the opportunity to direct and write a feature film. Investing in yourself and your own work is probably one of the best things you can do when you’re starting out. 

Is there anything else you would like to say about Growing Pains? Any people you would like to thank?

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to make Growing Pains. None of this would have been possible without the love and support of my mom, Georgia Argyrople. I am extremely blessed that she believed in me and my dreams of pursuing film. I’d also like to thank my main collaborators: Mari, Lia, and Chris. They have been an instrumental part of this production and the film wouldn’t exist without them! 

The film is a vulnerable and personal share, as it was inspired by my and Mariana Fabian’s experiences growing up. It’s fictional, but there is a lot of truth behind the characters and experiences. As an artist, I think it’s important to put yourself in your work and share the stories that made you who you are. Your strength and vulnerability to share something personal could mean the world to someone struggling with similar things. 

Growing Pains Trailer:

Growing Pains Social Media Channels: 

You can support the film through their crowdfunding campaign:



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