FYIVOD for the week of February 24th
The world of film is changing. For one thing, there’s not much actual film anymore. The future is digital; more and more, it’s streaming on our computers, too. Every week in FYIVOD, we survey the landscape online movies to bring you a snapshot of what’s available.
THIS WEEK’S THEME: Mumblecore
TINY FURNITURE (2010)
Directed by Lena Dunham
$4.99 to rent or stream; $19.99 to purchase
The formula for a “mumblecore” movie, the sub-sub-genre of micro-budget indies that sprung up, loosely and organically, around a group of likeminded filmmakers in the mid-2000s, goes something like this: twenty- or thirtysomething dude or dudes become trapped by post-graduate malaise and wounded by romantic disappointments. Lena Dunham’s striking breakthrough film, TINY FURNITURE bears all the hallmarks of the classic mumblecore formula with one crucial deviation: it comes from the perspective of a young woman, played by Dunham herself, and it’s the dudes (who, let it be said, bear their own post-graduate malaise, or at least post-graduate stupidity) who wind up providing her with romantic disappointments. TINY FURNITURE received its fair share of flak from skeptics, but the film does a better job than those critics give it credit for of getting under its wandering protagonist’s skin, and in painting a coming-of-age portrait with more than its share of unflattering warts. True, Dunham came from a successful family — her real-life mother and sister play her character’s mother and sister, and their insanely beautiful Tribeca apartment plays itself — but that all that free production value would mean nothing without Dunham’s insightfully inarticulate dialogue or the superbly directed and acted performances, both hallmarks of any great mumblecore movie.
COLD WEATHER (2010)
Directed by Aaron Katz
Free for streaming plan members
As the first wave of mumblecore movies crested, a second wave of filmmakers began to experiment with marrying the form’s low-fi aesthetic and loosey-goosey plotting to the more rigorous confines of genre cinema. One of the most satisfying results was Aaron Katz’s mumble-mystery COLD WEATHER, in which a typically affected mumblecore protagonist, college dropout and Sherlock Holmes enthusiast Doug (Cris Lankenau), returns home to Portland and moves in with his sister. He gets a job at an ice factory, then reconnects with an ex-girlfriend who’s vising from out of town. When she doesn’t show up for an appointment, the mystery novel enthusiast in Doug gets a chance to try out his amateur sleuthing skills. Before COLD WEATHER Katz made two more traditional mumblecore movies — 2006′s DANCE PARTY USA and 2007′s beautifully understated QUIET CITY — and here he shows himself capable of far more complexity, narratively and visually, than his earlier casual minimalism might have initially suggested. Though the plot takes a while to congeal, and deliberately so, this is a movie I’d recommend across all sorts of fanbases: if you enjoy John Cassavetes or Basil Rathbone, Louis Malle or Agatha Christie, you should check out COLD WEATHER.
GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH (2009)
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Free for streaming plan members
Damien Chazelle’s astounding debut feature is, like COLD WEATHER, a mumblecore genre hybrid: a mumble-musical (which shall henceforth be known as a “mumbsical.” Or, in some cases, as a “mumbusical”). Trumpeter Guy (real life jazz musician Jason Palmer) and waitress Madeline (Desiree Garcia) meet, and quickly fall in and out of love. For the rest of the movie they try to make sense of their lives and contemplate a reunion. If the laid-back vibe of mumblecore seemed like a weird match with the aggressive pacing of a mystery, it seems a downright impossible one for the fantastical stylization of the musical. But somehow it works; the magic of the musical numbers serves as a counterpoint to the reality of the character’s problems, and their uncomfortable conversations accentuate the sense of freedom of expression conveyed by their music One sequence, a performance of “Love in the Fall” at a house party done entirely in a single take, remains one of my favorite scenes in any movie of the last several years.
On Amazon Prime
Directed by Lynn Shelton
$2.99 to stream; $9.99 to purchase. (Or free for Amazon Prime members)
Dunham was certainly not the first (or last) woman to embrace the mumblecore ethos. Ry-Russo Young, Kris Swanberg, Mary Bronstein and others mined similar veins of feminine introspection. A female director, Lynn Shelton, even made one of the most successful and popular of all mumblecore movies: HUMPDAY, starring Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard as two old buddies who’ve fallen out of touch. In the intervening years, Duplass’ Ben became a straight-laced married man; while Leonard’s Andrew remained a free-spirited hippie. When Andrew comes to visit Ben, the pair agree to an unusual drunk dare: as an art project, they decide to make a gay porn together (neither Ben nor Andrew is gay, that’s what makes it art). Will they go through with it? Whether or not — and why — is a big part of what makes HUMPDAY such an interesting movie, and not simply just a funny one. Given the undeniably masculine subject matter, what does Shelton bring to the table? The same thing a French director brings when he comes here to make a film about America (like Michel Hazanavicius’ THE ARTIST) — an outside observer’s unbiased insight.
Directed by Joe Swanberg
$2.99 to stream (Or free for Mubi members)
The aforementioned Kris Swanberg is married to Joe Swanberg, one of the original and most prolific mumblecore filmmakers. Swanberg’s first film — and at this point he’s directed something like a dozen features, plus several webseries, in the seven years since — was 2005′s KISSING ON THE MOUTH, but the movie that really broke things open for him was 2006′s LOL, a funny and perceptive look at the way technology was simultaneously connecting and distancing an entire generation of young people. The superb nonprofessional cast includes a young Greta Gerwig making her feature debut; she’s since graduated from acting in mumblecore to writing and directing her own films and even to starring on more mainstream fare like GREENBERG and ARTHUR. Half a decade later, LOL is still one of the smartest movies about the technological revolution brought about by smartphones, text messages, and web cameras — which makes it the perfect film to watch on your computer.