Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I recently went to see Andrew Bujalski's new film "Mutual Appreciation" at the Music Box Theater on N. Southport in Chicago. I've been wanting to see this movie for a while, being a fan of Bujalski's first feature-length film "Funny Ha Ha" (which is currently available for rent at the wonderful Waterfront Video on Shelburne Road).

"Funny Ha Ha" was one of the most unique, yet familiar, films that I've seen in a while. And as much as I hate phrases like "it captured the zeitgeist of the generation" it, well, kinda did. The film is about a young woman named Marnie (played perfectly by non-actress Kate Dollenmayer) who is a few years out of college and is kind of meandering from temp job to temp job during the day and party to party at night. She's pretty, popular and confused, especially in her love life. She confesses to her friends that she's still in love with Alex (Bishop Allen band member Christian Rudder), whom she confessed her feelings to on a drunken night the past summer to only have him dismiss her....and then elope with his ex-girlfriend. Meanwhile, Marnie starts a new job with another temp company and meets Mitchell (director Bujalski) who quickly falls in love with her, but, similar to Marnie's position with Alex, the feelings aren't mutual.

Apparently this myth of "Mutual Appreciation" really appealed to Bujalski, as it became the title of his next film. "Mutual Appreciation" is an incredible sophmore work, with an direction and editing style that has matured greatly in a just a few years. Despite the seemingly improvised feel of both films, they are both carefully scripted with very little in the way of improvision. This approach has led to many (somewhat) justified and flattering John Cassavettes comparisons, which makes sense considering one of Bujalski's Boston University mentors was Cassavetes scholar Ray Carney.

"Mutual Appreciation" starts with a young man named Alan (star Justin Rice, another Bishop Allen member) and woman named Ellie (Rachel Clift) lying next to each other in bed, fully dressed, having a funny and flirty conversation about iron deficiency. It seems like they're about to consumate a successful first date when suddenly a second man (Bujalski) leaps into bed between them. Kinky three-way? No, this is Lawrence, Ellie's live-in boyfriend. Alan is an old high-school chum of Lawrence who just moved to Brooklyn from Boston after his band broke up, and we quickly see that his presence in NYC is going to cause some issues.

The next scene has Alan at a local college radio station, discussing his former band "The Bumblebees" and his upcoming solo show at a hip Williamsburg club. Two things become evident from the interview: 1) Alan is not at all prepared for this gig and has never played out without a backing band before and 2) the DJ, a cute girl named Sara (played by Seung-Min Lee) has an obvious crush on Alan. The second becomes a bit more obvious in the next scene, when Sara brings Alan back to her apartment, seducing him by pimping out her brother to play drums for Alan's gig & then jumping on an awkward and obviously not-to-infatuated Alan.

While Mitchell is busy working overtime as a professor for a local college, Alan and Ellie spend more time together, discussing Alan's plans and conspiring to start a tongue-in-cheek "cool, inclusive club", which they don't immediately invite Mitchell to join as the name was still "a work-in-progress". Their flirting and chemistry becomes increasingly evident as the days go on, with the sexual tension being very obvious, in an awkward Brooklyn hipster kind of way (a lot of "umms", trembling smiles and staring at shoes).

Soon Alan plays his gig with Sara's brother, including a dynamic performance of the Bishop Allen song "Quarter to Three". The crowd is very small, yet very receptive, including a record industry friend of Alan's father. The industry guy only attended the gig as a favor to Alan's dad, a business bed-fellow who calls his son in NY only to try to persuade him to get a real job. The industry guy invites Alan and his friends (Sara and her brother) to a "party" at his place.

From there, the night gets more and more interesting, but it's probably best not to give a full synopsis here. Go and see it yourself.

And why should you go see it? Well, for one, it's probably the best cinematic representation of the "current hip-oisie" since Richard Linklater's "Slacker", though utilizing a much more straightforward narrative & being more interested in following few characters than exploring vignettes and tangents. And for fans of cinema verite documentaries and the early films of John Cassavetes--you will not be disappointed. The same kind of energy and deceptive perceptions of "truth" are here, through authentic dialogue and grainy 16mm black & white (how heavy-grained, small format film stock ever became associated with autheticity is beyond me). And while you won't see the drunken male camraderie and spousal abuse that help defined Cassavettes' films as time capsules of the 50's, you will see the awkward confusion, post-modern irony and blue-collar debutantism that will someday define the youth of the 00's (scary thought, but you know it's true).

While "Mutual Appreciation" and "Funny Ha Ha" are far from perfect films (they tend to drag unintentionally, especially towards the end; the editing style is still fairly sophmoric), it's nice to see an original filmmaker who is finding his own voice & who is obviously just a few films away from really hitting his stride.

"Mutual Appreciation" is currently not playing at any Vermont theater (big surprise), but will be available on DVD February 23rd, 2006, jam-packed with lots of extras. I'm sure you'll be able to rent it at Waterfront Video, where "Funny Ha Ha" is currently available in their "Offbeat" section.


jay said...

Somebody in line at the Greg Davis/Avey Tare/Kria Brekkan show at Firehouse last night overheard my girlfriend & I chatting about Bujalski and I gave him my review of "Mutual Appreciation" in line. So somebody must be interested in this movie...I almsot gave him the link to this post, but didn't have a pen.

I'm one step away from handing out "spittingoutteeth" business cards at social events...I'm the Barnum & Bailey of the blogging world.

Patrick said...

It can't work as a matter of fact, that is what I consider.
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