Thursday, March 08, 2007

Good Movie, Troubling Resemblance

Hey, I really liked Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation. You probably should check that out. This is the second of two tiny-budget movies for Bujalski—2002’s Funny Ha Ha was the first. (Worst. Title. Ever.) They’re both rambling, elliptical, and defiantly deadpan. An aimless hipster musician arrives in New York to get a new band together, and bounces seemingly at random among parties and gigs and long conversations that don’t appear to go anywhere. Gradually he develops a crush on his best friend’s girlfriend. And that’s pretty much all that happens—some critic trying to be clever said that “every generation gets the Jim Jarmusch it deserves.” But that’s really pretty lazy—there’s not really a lot of common ground between the two except for a superficial minimalism. Bujalski doesn’t have any of Jarmusch’s cheerful surrealism, or his love of genres and types—his films are aggressively naturalistic, and they’re centered on very particular sorts of people.

The dialogue is what you notice first; it seems to be made to be as close as possible to actual speech without being unlistenable. Plenty of people would argue that it is unlistenable, there’s so many awkward pauses and so much muttering and stuttering and sighing. But for me, it works wonderfully, especially considering there are no real actors in these movies. It’s not at all like improvised dialogue, like you’d get in a Mike Leigh movie or something. You can tell it’s all as carefully, lovingly mapped out as a Whit Stillman or Noah Baumbach script; it’s just not mannered or clever like that. Bujalski is a poet of awkwardness, diffidence, and passive-aggression. Everybody in these movies is in constant emotional danger; they can’t help hurting each other and getting hurt. Justin Rice’s Alan can’t reject the clumsy advances of his drummer’s sister, but he can’t really go through with it, either. He’s likable and sincere, but there’s a blankness and a distance to him. He knows he’s fumbling around on borrowed time. Funny Ha Ha’s Marnie (Kate Dollenmayer) can’t escape her hopeless attraction to a completely unworthy friend, while Bujalski’s character Mitchell can’t stay away from her. Bujalski beautifully smudges the line between goofy-but-endearing and downright creepy—Mitchell suddenly dropping a full beer off of Marnie’s balcony when he starts to realize he’s not going to get the kind of attention he wants is hilarious, scary, and just embarrassing all at once.

This could be bleak material, but the movies have a kind of sweetness to them—Mutual Appreciation actually ends with a group hug, for crying out loud. Everything may or may not be okay for the three principals, but for a moment at least they all want it to be. You could believe that Bujalski maybe isn’t a million miles away from Lawrence, his Mutual Appreciation character, who just can’t be mad at his friends.

One more thing that I have to bring up. It’s a little disturbing.
Am I being completely paranoid here? Monsieur Bujalski, c'est moi!

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