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Painful awkwardness it's a real problem. Bujalski masterfully uncovers a new generation of college graduates that probably seems all too familiar to some. The film captures moments of social anxiety that come from a generation of sheltered upper middle class graduates. The security of a sheltered life comes with a price: these people have no idea how to express emotions and talk about anything beyond mundane daily happenings unless, as Ellie says, they are fed multiple beers. When Ellie and Alan admit a mutual attraction for each other on the bed, they have absolutely no idea how to realize it. All Alan can do is hilariously and timidly rub Ellie's arm. Instead, Ellie simply goes back to a boyfriend that doesn't even experience a mood shift when Ellie tells him he is attracted to his best friend, and they had a very vague "moment". Are we finally seeing the consequences of not letting youth experience anything for themselves? Are these people victims of their upbringing or is it their own fault, or both? I sat there watching the film feeling entirely uncomfortable, which is why the film worked so well. The silence in the air often made me cringe, which created completely hilarious moments when the characters finally responded with confused, inarticulate comments: "I can't even do that thing where you're not my girlfriend and I'm making out with you". I was scared to watch the movie, because I was afraid it would remind me of my own post college life. Some moments did hit close to home for me, and I found myself reflecting on my own life as well as the characters in the film. This film is scary and funny at the same time. It reminds us to wake up, but to also realize that life is full of awkward moments and sometimes all there is to do is laugh at them. I saw this film at Chicago's Music Box, and suggest that everyone do the same before the film is gone from the theater.
I haven't seen this director's first film, the 2002 Funny Ha Ha, but
I'm already a fan, if a mild one, from this second effort. It's
enjoyable to watch the quiet textures of ordinary young adult American
life that Andrew Bujalski weaves, because his people talk in ways that
are both witty and remarkably believable, even if the rhythms are
"If John Cassavetes had directed a script by Eric Rohmer," Variety's Joe Leydon has written, "the result might have looked and sounded like Mutual Appreciation." That indeed does give you a starting point for understanding what Andrew Bujalski (a Harvard film graduate, now thirty-one) is up to, except that these aren't Seventies American actors or later French ones, but mostly twenty-something American non-actors, and the result of the blending of methods and interests of those two older directors is different, of course, from either Rohmer or Cassavetes. Bujalski's film is grainy black and white, the look is rough, the scenes are improvisational and vérité. The topics and the conversations are delicate, however, like Rohmer's; there aren't any long harangues or violent arguments or tortured late-night epiphanies as was Cassavetes' way. Attractions, desires, choices no huge dramas.
There's really just a triangle, two male friends and the girlfriend of one of them. The boyfriend is Lawrence (Bujalski himself); the girlfriend is Ellie (Rachel Clift). The other guy is Alan (Justin Rice, in real life founder of the indie-rock band Bishop Allen), who's just come to town (NYC, i.e., Brooklyn), whose band has split up, and who wants to get started again. Alan has an interview of radio, and the host, Sara (Seung-Min Lee) later hits on him. During the course of the action, at several times when Lawrence is away, Alan and Ellie acknowledge that they "like" each other. They have a "moment," as they say. But they don't do anything about it, as far as we see (the scenes are chopped off at the ends almost every time; that's the style). They both separately tell Lawrence about their "moment." Some consideration of gender roles comes up when Lawrence agrees -- very half-heartedly -- to participate in a reading of women's experiences with men; and when Alan is talked into putting on a dress. The trio of lovers and friends acknowledge the temptation to infidelity that has happened and end with a group hug. That's all that happens in the 109 minutes.
There's a hand-held camera, the grainy look of 16 mm., but Bujalski doesn't revel in the richness of black and white as Cassavetes' cameramen did. There's nothing particularly cinematic about Bujalski's method, which also has little to do with politics or current events or trends except for the presence of cell phones. There are hardly any exterior shots. But something magical does happen in the way Bujalski and Rice and the other main characters, who aren't particularly photogenic, to put it mildly, start to look good to us, because the inner beauty of their natures Alan's openness and positivity; Lawrence's sensitivity and goodness gradually emerges from the thick grain. Because Bujalski's kitchen-sink use of awkwardness is so adept, it almost disappears. The pace is sometimes excruciating, but in a way this isn't a movie; it doesn't feel like one; and that's not so bad.
What makes the movie a success is the naturalness doesn't seem forced or self-conscious. The people aren't actor-y like Cassavetes and his pals. Their conversations are choppy and awkward sometimes, but alert, even witty. These aren't Actors Studio-style tortured-intensity Stanislawski moments, but remarkably believable recreations of twenty-first-century, twenty-something American conversations. Bujalski's characters, as his Wikipedia bio says, are "well-educated, yet socially inept young white people." The scenes, which include a show at a club that's not very well attended, and a little gathering at an older man's house afterward followed by another dying party of three women in wigs who dress Alan in drag, and phone conversations between Alan, the singer, and his father (one of them to voice mail, while Alan strums his guitar and doesn't answer), have a documentary feel, but it's a documentary that's niftily edited, about people observed so nicely you end by liking them.
In limited release. Seen at Cinema Village NYC September 18, 2006.
I respect this movie very much. It does an excellent job of creating
realistic situations and natural dialogue. But it almost feels too real
at times. Watching this movie is as if I was sitting in a room watching
my friends talk and mentally filming it. I respect the attempt but
there's a reason why movies are scripted! Real life conversations can
get boring at times. And in this movie, the director let many scenes
run far longer than they needed to. And the lack of any semblance of a
real story emphasizes its quality as a snippet of a week or so in the
lives of three 20s New Yorkers.
Mutual Appreciation is one of the first I've seen where I feel totally like I am watching real life. And this creates some very funny moments. But it also leads to many dull points and a lack of direction to the film, which is easily recognized as the intention of the director. But I don't think it makes a great film. A film to be respected for its attempt, but not necessarily enjoyable or a great film.
I think a film like Mutual Appreciation and films in general akin to
Mutual Appreciation will more often than not get a bit of a sigh from
its audience following the first five minutes, possibly followed by a
rolling of the eyes. But while certain experiments can go wrong when it
comes to film, I don't think Mutual Appreciation is a film to be
sniffed at. Its really low budget and the fact it goes a for a pretty
long runtime considering what conditions these people are making it
under add to the overall experience of watching a film as guerrilla
style and as unordinary as this one but the most surprising thing I
found was just how interested I really was as these scenes and this
runtime were totalling up.
Mutual Appreciation is a film about students, made by students. It carries all those tags you'd associated with the young, the up-coming and the adventurous in the sense there are lots of long takes; there's dialogue that doesn't revolve around anything and the makers are using people they probably picked off the street for locations that are their own homes the film even gives us a few well shot scenes on actual streets but not in the cornered off, Hollywood sense where lots of extras make up the background and a police presence stops anything going wrong, oh no: this is neo-realism, out on the roads, with self-motivated written permission for filming and everything else that comes with it.
I guess we've all attempted to make a film at one point in our lives. For some, it becomes careers; for others it is limited to a brief recording of a friend or loved one on a holiday via a camera phone or a recording of an event such as a wedding or birthday party, the ultimate 'home movie'. But Mutual Appreciation is a 'home movie' of sorts that relies on people in a fictional yet realistic situation attempting to, at the film's core, find who they are and where they belong with what they belong doing following up as a sort of sub-theme. Conversations can take place in houses or flats; on city streets or in cars and can revolve around anything in particular like the size of a mole on someone's body to the meaningless chit-chat that occurs between a band member and the host before a live musical performance.
But the truly scary thing about the dialogue is just how good it is or just how interesting it is when it's trying to be smart and carry substance. The host of the musical performance owns a cinematic space that is vastly the superior of all the other locations, especially ones that dictate where certain characters live. In his kitchen, primary characters Alan (Rice) and Sera (Lee) will have an uneasy conversation that will have you flinch somewhat to do with their relationship it does not help matters that the preceding scenes had her in a flirtatious mindset with the host of both the apartment.
But as I say, the film's focus is on these people and where they fit into society. Alan seems to be chasing a musical fondness of some sort but must negotiate girls in the process as well as his father's constant wish for him to earn money to help for more immediate issues. The film gives us splashes of other people. Lawrence, played by Andrew Bujalski the film's writer/director gives advice in his own little room to a girl who is requesting help for male read monologues, something that has no bearing on the overall film but does pop up later on reminding us of this earlier exchange. The point here being that whilst not necessarily demanding an 'art' label, the film proves it is able to deliver a nicely written scene in which one character will help another through good dialogue good dialogue being pretty much the only thing films like this have initially: they don't have much money for special effect or acting talent and cannot give us lush locations and fancy visual aids but anybody can write a page of dialogue on anything. Mutual Appreciation takes advantage of this one factor.
Going on from the scenes that do work through attention to substance, Alan's immediate life is focused upon following the leaving of the host's flat following the musical performance. He visits a girl with whom he is friends and nothing more. He has left the previous apartment with his female 'partner' still there after going through a minor break-up with someone who came onto him and witnessing her flirtatious activity. In the new location, he is relegated once more and his manhood jeopardised when the female host and her female friends convince him to dress up in female clothing this relegating him further into a sort of metaphorical mire of embarrassment and failure to control a situation when activity involving multiple genders threaten to escalate out of Alan's control he has failed again.
But Alan's voyage around a night time urban location does not go on for too long and the theory reading has to stop after this scene; this is not Mike Leigh's 1993 film Naked after all. But what it is is an interesting and somewhat unique look at life in America round about now as a young adult or late teen. When issues of sex and relationships arise they are not dealt with in a childish 'American Pie' manner but are constructed and developed - not a film for all but I got a mild kick out of it.
I bet Andrew Bujalski is sick of reading that he's the voice of his generation, when most of that neo-slacker demographic has never had the opportunity to see his films. Like Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation is hardly your standard Amerindie It's shot on 16mm black-and-white, thus confirming Bujalski's allegiance to a strain of maverick filmsShadows, Stranger than Paradise, Clerksthat bring poignantly accurate renditions of subcultures of which their directors have intimate knowledge to otherwise homogenized screens. While Cassavetes is the most obvious influence, one might also regard Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciationas Rohmer without subtitles. Both films are "moral tales" whose characters leap to language as offense and defense.Amy Taubin
At times, this picture feels like a slimmed down Jean Eustache film or
an extremely modest variation of Francois Truffaut's ''Jules et Jim."
You're forced to wonder what more money or a bigger vision might have
produced. While it's true that the characters here have slim ambitions,
you consequently have to wonder -- even while remaining devoted to his
uncannily subtle skill with character -- what else Bujalski has up his
sleeve. A panning shot, perhaps? ''Mutual Appreciation" is his first
New York film (''Funny Ha Ha" was set in Allston), and the world he's
captured is true to Alan's hipster dreams and indie-rock goals. The
character's emotional dial is set on ''emo," which means he lacks the
social constitution to articulate himself. He's passive, aimless, and
occasionally narcissistic. See Alan unhook himself from Sara (Seung-Min
Lee), a cute radio DJ, without it costing him her brother, who's his
temporary drummer. And watch as he carries on a flirtation with Ellie,
who's also attracted to him. Her emotional intelligence, however, is
superior. The women in ''Mutual Appreciation" are confident and direct.
The men can be exasperatingly meek.
''Funny Ha Ha" was about a stalled 20-something and her romantic entanglements. (The woman who played her, Kate Dollenmayer, has a too-small part here.) ''Mutual Appreciation" is the second chapter in what seems like Bujalski's statement about people trying to find the right words as they move toward adulthood and negotiating their fears of commitment of any kind -- to a job, a person, or a complete thought. He could have called this movie ''A Tentative Yes." Of course, that title should do nothing to stop you from making an absolute commitment to see this film.
I saw this film yesterday at the Independent Film Festival of Boston and was pleasantly surprised. I just randomly picked it because i wanted to see something at the IFFB, and i loved the movie. Andrew Bujalski did a great job writing this conversion driven movie. The conversation felt so natural that I thought most of it was ad-libbed, but after the film he told us that while parts of the script were somewhat left open for ad-libbing, it was mostly written dialog. The main character, Alan (Justin Rice) has this wonderfully unique charisma, which really pulled me into the movie. Mr. Bujalski told us that much of that character was based on real life Justin Rice, and it came across well. I would definitely recommend checking out this movie if you can, especially for fans of Woody Allen, and it reminded me of Wes Anderson's work in some ways, probably just because of the characters.
Without condemning the whole mumblecore movement, I think I sympathise
more with its critics than its fans. The films certainly convey
relationships between their characters realistically, and there are
some scenes in each mumblecore film I've seen which I could almost
recognise for myself, but I'm always overwhelmed by this slightly smug
self-awareness that pervades many artists working under the 'indie'
banner. It is easy to believe that the makers of these films are very
similar to their characters young, confused, directionless but the
fact that the focus most often falls on the progeny of the last
bourgeois generation takes away the integrity of this gritty, frugal
Mutual Appreciation is as much a milestone of indie film-making as it is a victim of its own pretences. The observer paradox seems to pervade much of the dialogue, much of which feels calculatingly awkward it is easy to distinguish between the improvised lines and premeditated lines. Having said that, I was struck by one scene where Alan is besieged by with women at a 'party' he wasn't certain about going to in the first place, and is eventually convinced to don a dress and make-up. Here it seems the actors were given the most room to ad-lib, and it's a brilliant piece of footage which seems to speak to the majority of young adults and their issues with projecting identity.
I saw Mutual Appreciation on the bottom row of a 'new release' section of a movie shop and it caught my eye. I usually am a sucker for movies that are deeper than the average celluloid we are bombarded with. I didn't have a great expectation for the movie, which turned out to be great. The dialog isn't deep. And it isn't meant to be. It's very real to life. The colours and positioning really captured the essence of the movie: bleak and monotonous. I did like it for the fact I felt that I could relate to more than one character, and the characters were realistic and likable. I've read previous remarks, and I suppose the only advice I can give is to watch the movie without expectations and with a open mind. On reflection, try and see if you can relate some of the central themes to your life and you will be pleasantly surprised. As a 16 year old that is trying to find movies that break the conventional mould, I found this refreshing and it made me hopeful for some reason. I will definitely be checking out Funny Ha Ha.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Beginning in the early 2000s, a group of young 20-something filmmakers
got together and made gritty little movies about other young
20-somethings. Almost always funny, quirky, and insightful, their
movies have come to define my generation and the generation to follow!
Somewhere along the way, the term "Mumblecore" was attached. While
admittedly I haven't seen anywhere near the amount of Mumblecores, I've
seen a good number. My personal favorites are: THE PUFFY CHAIR, FUNNY
HA HA! and this one. Ironically, both of the last 2 were made by the
same director Andrew Bujalski. When I first found out about him, I was
still in college, one day dreaming of becoming a mumblecore filmmaker
too. And I was all too thrilled to discover that he was releasing a new
movie... and would be appearing in person at the Maryland Film
Festival, right near my college! Talk about a match made in Heaven! So
there I was, when I actually got to talk with the director BEFORE he
screened MUTUAL APPRECIATION. Fun times! What's so great about MUTUAL
APPRECIATION (or MA for short?) Where to start?
1) It's filmed in glorious black & white. 2) It's got a gritty John Cassavetes feel. 3) It's about real-life people in real-life situations. 4) It's not afraid to show the in-between times in the lives of young adults in their 20s and 30s. 5) It's funny as hell! Not funny haha (yes, pun intended) but funny thoughtful!
The shifting dynamics of the main characters is incredible. In just one five-minute scene, the tone could go from comedic to tragic to pathos and back, with everything in between. As stated above, the director wisely shows us the quiet moments and gray areas that make up a large portion of our lives. In the middle of MA is Alan, an aimless young fellow who has come to the Big Apple to start a music career. Along the way, he falls in and out of love, seems listless in finding a steady job, and wanders into situations that he later wishes he hadn't gotten into. The great thing about Bujalski's 2 movies is that they begin and end in the middle of scenes, a lot like Cassavetes. That works because as Ray Carney once said "We live and die in the middle of muddles." If you're new to the new indie movement, see either of Bujalski's movies or THE PUFFY CHAIR! However, this is my favorite Bujalski film.
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