Lynn Shelton's "My Effortless Brilliance" is a study in the relationship between cocky, fussy, thoroughly-city-mouse author Eric (Sean Nelson) and his ex-best-friend, the tersely powerful journalist and wood-chopper Dylan (Basil Harris). Dylan, fed up with Eric's self-involved antics, dumps him and disappears to live in a log cabin in the woods of Eastern Washington; two years later, Eric arrives (sporting a Prius, white sneakers, and a fear of spiders) to mend the friendship.
The acting style, on the vanguard of the 'mumblecore' movement in improvisational film-making, works beautifully for the tension between Eric and Dylan in this film. Theirs isn't a "movie fight," with two handsome actors shouting witty insults and slamming doors. It's a quiet, painfully awkward, passive-aggressive, eyes-averted fight, no fireworks and no catharsis for the characters either. It's how people who aren't drama queens actually get angry at each other--quietly and seethingly.
The film style in which 'Brilliance' was filmed plays perfectly with the subject matter and acting: the camera is awkwardly and intimately and uncomfortably close, not just over the shoulder of the actors but breathing down their necks. You, the audience, are brought into the awkwardness of the rift between Eric and Dylan, you're part of the problem, you're holding your breath and walking on eggshells too.
Not that this movie is an mess of tension and closeness--all of what I've said aside, My Effortless Brilliance is genuinely funny. It's full of small surreal moments showcasing the absurdity of human interactions doused in Serbian brandy, anecdotes of bullfighting guitar riffs and suicidal house cats and Liv Tyler's derrière.
If you have the opportunity to see My Effortless Brilliance, do not pass it by. Lynn Shelton does a fantastic job studying the way friendships are broken and mended, and the relationships between Sean Nelson, Basil Harris, and Calvin Reeder throw into relief the best and the worst of male rapport.
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