I’ve been meaning to do some thinking on mumblecore for awhile, but I just haven’t seen enough of the films branded with this moniker or know enough about the designated filmmakers to really write anything worth reading. But I’m going to do it anyway….
Andrew Bujalski is one of the filmmakers (along with the likes of Joe Swanberg, Aaron Katz, the Duplass brothers, etc.) that is usually mentioned around this term. I guess it has something to do with the general lack of intelligible dialogue, plot, or otherwise “dramatic” scenario in these films. I’ve seen all three of Bujalski’s features and they all superficially fit within these descriptions. I guess most people would just label his films ‘boring’ or that ‘nothing happens’ in them, or they just seem improvised out of nothing. While I can appreciate this point-of-view (it took me a week to find the right mood to sit down and watch this), I think there are some clear things to praise about the films.
Another characteristic of these films is the focus on the middling, daily lives of its characters, most of whom happen to clearly be of the same generation of the filmmakers (late twenties/early thirties in age). I can relate to the lack of clear purpose or general sense of ennui among the players, nearly all of which are non-professional actors (or at least haven’t been many other films). I find this fly-on-the-wall kind of approach (yet not in a cliched, handheld/voyeuristic type way) intriguing. I think I read someone else compare this to the films of Eric Rohmer, with qualifications of course (clearly not as cinematically literate and focusing on completely different class and time of people), but it seems mildly appropriate for comparison’s sake. One could even make comparisons to John Cassavettes in the independent, communal sense of the filmmaking (though again the filmmakers and films are themselves completely different).
For anyone familiar with mumblecore as a ‘movement’ (which in that case the phrase might make you feel like throwing up) , none of what I’m proposing seems remotely interesting or original. I think I’m boring myself writing this.
So….on to this film. It concerns twin-sisters (something that I weirdly didn’t actually catch right away), though more so the one who runs a vintage clothing store in Austin, Texas (apparently based on a real store?) who is having problems with her business partner, while revisiting a relationship with an ex-boyfriend/future lawyer preparing to take the bar exam. She also happens to be in a wheelchair. I liked that the film both uses the real person’s disability and yet doesn’t seem to make a point of it either. It’s depicted in a way that isn’t seen that often, as simply a fact of life for the character.
Yet, this is a part of the curious way Bujalski frames his narrative; he seems to focus on characters that are real people, whether they are actually played by those same real people I have no idea. Regardless, I find the performances engaging in a documentary kind of way. Clearly it takes talent to be able to create an engaging performance that seems to be helped very little by the camera.
The placement of the characters is a bit uneven, if that even matters, in that the other sister isn’t given nearly as much to do or say (she seems to be having a hard time finding a job but doesn’t seem to want one anyway?) and the boyfriend is easily treated as a secondary character (we know nothing about this guy outside of what we view in his interactions with other people).
I guess my problem with this film is the lack of perspective. There does not appear to be any point-of-view given to us. I suppose that’s for us to just figure out as individual viewers? Yet, of his three films, Bujalski has crafted similar stories from three completely different geographical parts of the country (Boston, New York, and Austin, respectively). I like the films when I’m watching them, but when they’re over I kind of don’t understand why.
I guess all I wanted to do was point this film out (though I still prefer Funny Ha-Ha, his first film). It is a bit frustrating because the construction of the characters is so wonderful, in a way that they really seem like real people you want to know more about outside the limited view within the film, but the film is so limited in its scope that it often appears to just be floundering around choosing random moments to display and discard. I’m just not sure what to make of it. I’m not sure I would recommend the film in all of its seeming lack of direction, but I would eagerly watch another one with the continuation of the same characters (which surely must be a compliment to its direction?). I suppose I’ll excuse the lack of apparent insight here as a meta-review on the nature of mumble. Whatever.