All I Wish follows Senna Burges (Sharon Stone), a woman who is struggling to find her place in the world, year after year on her birthday. Professionally, the company she’s purchasing clothes for doesn’t align with her funky, bold aesthetic (orange, mod boots she picks out are quickly tossed aside, for instance), and personally, she seems to just be floating from one house party to the next, having flings with men along the way.

On her 46th birthday, Senna attends a party where she meets Adam (Tony Goldwyn), a logical, buttoned-up lawyer. Adam explains that his friend has set him up with someone named “Senna.” Senna sidles closer getting ready to do a little flirting, only to have Adam say how he’s dreading the set-up and how this “Senna” person sounds like a total basket case hippie. Of course, it’s then revealed that the person he’s been talking to is Senna herself. Between the foot-in-mouth introduction and the fact that they seem total opposites, you’d expect them to go their separate ways – but fate has other plans. Each year we get a glimpse of how Senna’s life is starting to take shape, as she pursues both her fashion dreams and the man who may just be her soulmate.

ScreenPicks spoke with writer/director Susan Walter about her experiences making the film and bringing us into Senna’s chaotic, wacky, beautiful world.

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Walter: One of my favorite movies of all time across any genre is When Harry Met Sally, and what I loved about that movie is how two characters get developed over a really long period of time, coming together after you’ve seen them having a lot of life experiences. So if you’ve seen All I Wish, you know that it is a little bit of an homage to that in that it copy-cats the structure loosely, including these breaks of the fourth wall — interstitials where the characters reveal something about themselves year to year.

So knowing that I wanted a story that took place over many years, I decided that being on her [Senna’s] birthday, and exclusively on her birthday, would be a fun hook. I just played with that to let the characters evolve over those years.

When Harry Met Sally is a fantastic film. It’s a great source of inspiration, but you made it your own.

Walter: Yeah, you know with these interstitials, if you’re going to do it, you have to do something a little different and you have to amp up. So I initially had sort of random people talking, and then I had this idea, like why don’t I have the characters? You could get to know the characters so much better if I just give them 45 seconds of monologue where you reveal a secret about them.

One of the most powerful monologues is Famke’s [Janssen] character. She’s Senna’s nemesis early on, and then you realize when she does her monologue that she’s got a story too and some of her brittleness might come from the fact that she’s in pain and she has regrets. I thought wow, it totally reframes her character to have those 45 seconds where you get her point of view.

Speaking of Famke’s character Vanessa, one of the most interesting parts of the film is that Vanessa fires Senna at her lowest point — and maybe this expectation comes from the fact that women are conditioned to be competitive in the wrong ways with each other — but the audience is sort of expecting this Pretty Woman moment where Senna turns it all around and then tells Vanessa what a huge mistake she made. That isn’t what happens. Instead, Senna hires Vanessa to run part of her business. Can you speak to that decision?

Walter: I love that observation. What I felt really made it work was that Famke’s character Vanessa was right about Senna. Even though it comes off as a dismissal … she’s right! I think what we don’t see, because we don’t see Senna’s thought process, is that Vanessa really did her a favor by not allowing her to come back to a job that was crushing her soul. She wasn’t succeeding at her job, she aspired to be more and was coloring outside the lines, and she didn’t belong as somebody’s employee.

So, my hope is what you feel when Senna decides to bring her back is that she respects Vanessa’s choice to say, “You know what? You don’t belong here.” It’s a little bit of tough love in the end. And Senna rewards her for that by saying, “Here, not only am I hiring you, but I’m turning this over to you, because I trust you and you showed really good judgement early on.”

Speaking of Sharon Stone and Famke Janssen, you also have Ellen Burstyn, Caitlin FitzGerald, even Ryan Lochte! Was this cast just like striking gold for you?

Walter: Once Sharon signed on, she came on as a producer in a very powerful way, and I knew that I could handpick and have a really good shot at the exact actors that I wanted. We were very collaborative with each other in terms of casting who would support her, and we very much chose those actors together. There were many instances where she picked up the phone for me and said, “Hey listen, this person is for real. Take a meeting with her.” She stepped up in that producer role to help me get what I feel like is a dream cast.

Ryan Lochte though … that was just one of those things. My daughters are pursuing gymnastics, so I wanted an elite athlete for some reason — it was just a personal obsession. And his name emerged and he was available. That was just for fun! [laughs]

With these actors, did you find the way they brought your words to life was unexpected, or were they pretty much just acting exactly what you put on the page?

Walter: So many surprises! It’s never how you hear it in your head, and it’s always so much better when you get quality actors and they come with a point of view and they challenge you. Ellen’s version of Celia, Senna’s mom, was so much more layered and warmer, and yet somehow, you have these biting words that come out of her mouth. She’s totally shaming her daughter, and yet you still can feel that it’s coming from a place of love. I’m so grateful to her for having all those layers. You feel the motherly love. It’s extraordinary.

The same thing with Liza Lapira’s character [Darla]. She’s so caring … you feel her genuine warmth toward Sharon’s character, so you like Sharon’s character better. [Senna] is doing some “unsavory” things – she’s having sex with a guy who is half her age and just pushing him out the door, and she’s a little bit all over the place — and yet, because [Darla] cares for her, as an audience, you can feel that, and you care about her too.

With regard to Stone, women in Hollywood reach a certain age — you could say it is 40, you might even argue it’s 30 — where they get relegated to playing the mom with the minivan. Senna is not that character. Can you talk about creating a character who is a strong woman who is just happy doing her own thing – no PTA meetings?

Walter: Well, I have a terrible confession to make: originally this movie was written for a 25-year-old actress, and I cast one, and Sharon was going to play the mom! Then that 25-year-old actress had to go back to a commitment that shifted and the movie fell apart.

Oh wow. That could have killed the movie.

Walter: Sharon was the one who picked up the phone and said, “Don’t let this movie die. I will play the lead.” I had some hesitation! I had my own ageism. I had written the script with a character who was playing beach volleyball in a string bikini, and I thought I can’t have a 58-year-old actress out on the beach playing volleyball – it’s laughable.

Then Sharon sort of shamed me. She said, “Why not? Have you seen me in shorts? Do you know that I play basketball with my young sons? I’m an athlete. I can do this, and people need to see that when you’re 40 or 50 or whatever age you are on paper, doesn’t mean you belong in the crypts! You can be out there doing things as I am!” And she proved herself right. It took a moment for me to believe that would work.

All I Wish opens in theaters and is available on VOD and Digital HD this Friday, March 30th.