I don’t write on this thing as much as I’d like. Truthfully, I really only pick movies I feel like writing about at the time, or, on the rare occasion, feel like I can articulate something worth reading. This is one of the former, I guess. The Duplass Brothers have something and I can’t quite articulate what that is (see above). Here I go failing to do that: They made The Puffy Chair for $15,000+ and showed a bit of it. They made this very similar film for around $10 million, but wrote a better script. I have seen all of their collaborations together and think that they are gradually becoming better filmmakers with each film. While their previous feature, Cyrus, may share the same fate as this one (meaning that it was hated by a lot of people who were either mislead by the trailer or thought it was going to be something it is not), these brothers are carving quite a quirky niche for themselves in developing awkward dramedies about people who see very little comedy in their own lives. Like the above-mentioned first feature, this film follows characters who may not learn much about their own lives (or the film just doesn’t go beyond that point to let us see it), but it serves to allow us as viewers to process our own relatability through the emotions they display throughout the story. Despite that ridiculously convoluted sentence (see what I mean about articulation?), these are simple stories with simple problems. Whether or not you like the films depends on whether that’s enough for you, I guess.
This is the story of two possibly-perceived-as-loser brothers who seemingly have no direction to their life. Jeff is a 30 year old man who looks for signs in everything (even in the movie Signs) to guide his stoner Buddha-like existence while living with his mother and apparently not doing much else (He is obviously the character Mark Duplass would play, if Jason Segel wasn’t available). His brother Pat is played by Ed Helms with a kind of seriocomic naiveté that removes nearly any ability to laugh at or with him (I’m not sure if this makes me like the performance more or less). He is a man in stereotypical 1/3-life crisis who can’t see the forest through the trees, or whatever metaphor you want to use for his lack of attention to his relationship with his wife (played well by a noticeably more raw than usual Judy Greer).
I feel like I’m getting into plot summary here and that is not my intent. The whole point of this movie is following the emotions of the characters and seeing where it unpredictably takes you. The Duplass Brothers say they are influenced most by documentary filmmaking. While this movie does not try to be like a documentary in form (like, say, The Office), it makes use of a DV aesthetic that allows them to focus on the actors rather than the visuals. This is not a movie with great shots or camera movement. In trying to find some stills to add to this post, I had some frustration with getting a decent static image from the lack of attention to character framing or the numerous readjustments of shot length in the middle of a scene. The Duplass Brothers do not seem to be interested in a conventional cinematic display (though they do show occasionally that they are capable of beautiful images of their actors). They simply choose to film the actors in the loosest way possible to capture the emotion they are going for. Mark Duplass has said that, while there is always a traditional script to work from, he prefers that actors improvise, make up their own dialogue, and do whatever works best for the story. This is one reason why they are getting more exposure, because there seem to be a lot of people that want to work with them…
I was suprised by how much I enjoyed The Puffy Chair, a film that became one of the first to be labeled with that post-millennial moniker of “mumblecore“. I’ve written about this term before, so I’ll spare you my tirades on the breadth of difference between all these filmmakers that are lumped together under this ‘movement’. This film is especially different than those that I have seen in that it chooses to focus on the mother (Susan Sarandon), an older woman, as its main subplot and it has a final act that is markedly not like any of the others (spoilers withheld here and ahead).
I liked the ending of this movie. It worked for me. Other people will be disappointed, or perhaps even infuriated, based on their expectations coming into it. This is not a traditional comedy. Despite it starring two actors who are mostly known for comedic roles, this film is on the other side of the dramedy coin, so to speak. I like that. I do not need to laugh out loud, if the film is trying to do something else. I won’t try to presume that I can tell you what to feel that this movie is doing, but I have my own version of what that is. While I have some distance from the film now, when it was over I did think it was one the best films I have seen this year. It still is, but I know that’s a personal choice and nowhere near an objective one.