Manodrome Director on His Chilling New ‘Chosen Family’ Thriller

Manodrome Director on His Chilling New ‘Chosen Family’ Thriller

What if you could choose your family? Veteran actors Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody explore this alternative idea in Manodrome, a tense new thriller from writer-director John Trengove that quickly turns psychological as a certain character loses their grip on reality. Eisenberg plays Ralphie, a New York Uber driver who spends his free time caring for his pregnant lover Sal (Odessa Young) and also bodybuilding. Watch as he often goes out of his way to take mirror selfies at the gym, seemingly impressed with his own hard work.

Down and out of his luck, however, Ralphie is drawn to a mysterious brotherhood led by Dad Dan (Brody), which seems like all-good-things at first, a sort of saving grace for the recently unemployed dad-to-be. But then pressure mounts in the unholy world around him, and Ralphie may or may not just spiral. We recently caught up with Trengove to learn more about his impactful new feature that showcases standout performances by his award-winning actors.

Exploring Something ‘Prescient and of the Moment’


Release Date
November 10, 2023

John Trengove

Jesse Eisenberg, Adrien Brody, Odessa Young, Philip Ettinger, Ethan Suplee


1hr 35min

Sometimes, it all starts with a groundbreaking book, though Manodrome is no adaptation. As writer-director, Trengove detailed how his unique idea came to life on the big screen thanks to a text from Zero Books. “There was a moment where I was reading a wonderful book by Angela Nagel called Kill All Normies, which was my first introduction to the manosphere and these online communities of men who sort of reject mainstream culture in favor of some kind of rehabilitation or reasserting themselves and their identity,” Trengove told MovieWeb. He continued:

“And a lot of this has become very widely known and understood, but at the time, it was all new to me. And I was just fascinated. At the same time, I didn’t really want to make a documentary about this; it felt like it was very prescient and of the moment. So I was looking for a way to sort of, not make a film about the internet, but to take some of these ideas, these kind of radical ideas, and bring them into another kind of real-world space.”

Related: Best LGBTQ+ Movies About Chosen Families, Ranked

Trengove also opened up about how this layered tale has a personal connection to his own life. “I’m a gay man, and this idea of chosen family is something that’s very familiar to me. And I thought, ‘Well, what if you had a kind of chosen family of men who choose to rehabilitate themselves in a certain way?’ And that’s really kind of where the thinking around the film started.” He continued:

And then, of course, what if a protagonist who is emotionally unstable, and at odds with his own sexuality, comes into a space like this? What are the fireworks that would be set off now? That was the kind of groundwork for thinking and writing the first draft.

Jesse Eisenberg in Manodrome (2023)

As film buffs are well aware, Eisenberg is Oscar-nominated (The Social Network) and Brody has a trophy of his own (The Pianist). The two have terrific on-screen chemistry in Manodrome. “It was a dream,” said Trengove in describing working with them. “I didn’t think, when I was writing the script, that I would be working with actors of this caliber. So it just was an absolute high point of my career, to have these actors come on board, for them to respond as positively as they did to the script and to kind of understand where I was coming from — and then to inhabit these characters and take things further than I thought that they could go. So just a wonderfully stimulating and truly collaborative process.”

Manodrome Is ‘Taxi Driver for the Trump Era’

It’s a fresh new storyline, though one can’t help but think back to past classics when watching a complex feature like Manodrome, especially with a mentally unstable New Yorker like Ralphie at the center of it all. “The obvious comparison would be Taxi Driver, and certainly, right at the beginning, there was this idea of a Taxi Driver for the Trump era,” said Trengove. “But I think in terms of inspiration, the formula that comes to mind is Bad Lieutenant, which I saw quite late in my life. I didn’t realize the kind of movie that it was until I watched it, and it sort of blew my mind, this character that is sort of beyond redemption in a way. You kind of know from early on that things are going to not end well, but then you go on this journey. And there is the sort of grappling with his humanity and these demons that come out. It’s just a very, very interesting film.”

Related: 10 of the Best TV Shows About Found Family

“There’s an Australian film called Sleeping Beauty that has always haunted me,” said Trengove, adding another influence, “about a character who you sort of follow through her life and her situation, and you’re sort of in close proximity to her, but you also don’t completely understand everything that’s going on. And there is something in that closeness and simultaneously that distance that creates so much tension. Trengove continued to speak about how different films helped him craft Manodrome:

“I watch a lot of movies, and I’m a fan of a lot of filmmakers. And surely there were many more. But I was interested in films about characters who are alienated in the world and who struggle with knowing themselves. And I think that was the kernel of this forming. Ralphie is not somebody who invites you in and elicits a huge amount of sympathy. But at the same time, there are so many people like this in the world that it kind of begs a certain understanding, or at least an attempt to try and understand people like this. And I guess this was my attempt to understand people like Ralphie, to try and get a bit closer.”

In addition to Eisenberg and Brody, keep your eyes peeled for another standout performance by a celebrity that you simply won’t see coming. “There was an opportunity to work with a former basketball star in the most unlikely casting,” Trengove told us playfully. “I won’t say more about it.”

Looking ahead, Trengove remains busy with yet another feature film in the works. “I’m hoping to shoot a film here in South Africa next year, something that’s been in development for a while, something quite personal and very different on the surface, but maybe not as different when you scratch a little bit,” he said.

In the meantime, from Lionsgate, Manodrome is now in theaters and will be on demand and digital November 17. You can watch an official clip from the film below:


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