Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Underrated Movie #36: Funny Ha Ha

Title: Funny Ha Ha
Year: 2005
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Writer: Andrew Bujalski
Stars: Kate Dollenmayer, Andrew Bujalski, Justin Rice

The Story: A 23 year old woman hangs out with friends, works lousy temp jobs and drinks too much. After some humiliating realizations, she finally tries to pull her life together.

How it Came to be Underrated: Are you ready to mumble?? This was the movie that launched the whole “mumblecore” genre of ultra-low-budget, affectless, plotless comedy/dramas about downwardly-mobile gen-y slackers. These movies are not aimed at broad audiences, and they make about $10 at the box office, but they inoculate themselves by only costing $5 to make in the first place.

Why It’s Great:

  1. When mumblecore movies fail to connect, they are horrifically unpleasant, but when they work they seem so honest and accurate that they resonate deep down in your bones. Dollenmayer’s delicately-detailed characterization of this young woman can be alternately devastating and inspiring if you open yourself up to the movie’s awkward style.
  2. Whenever I re-read dialogue I’ve written, I ask, “How can I make this sound more like how people actually talk?” But then I correct myself: “Well, not exactly like actual talk…” The art of dialogue is all about writing something realistic enough to provide a brief shock of recognition, but then, once your reader feels that you’re echoing real life, you flatter them by making everybody sound more and more clever. It’s only the most ambitious filmmakers who attempt to craft drama out of the stumbling, fumbling, mumbling give-and-take of truly realistic dialogue.
  3. The easiest way to write a movie is to start with an active, driven protagonist who seeks out conflict. Audiences won’t want to care about those who doesn’t care about themselves, so we're told. But, if you’re willing to limit your audience to more hardcore filmgoers, then you can make a great movie about any type of person. We should be able to make movies about anything, right? This movie has the courage to explore the dramatic consequences of conflict avoidance, which is looking more and more like the curse of our age.
  4. People who hate mumblecore like to complain about how bourgeois the whole concept is. They scream, “why should I care about mopey college grads whose only real problem is that they don’t know what to do with themselves??” But those critics are asking exactly what the filmmakers want them to ask. As the novelist Walker Percy put it, (paraphrasing here:) “our priests and psychiatrists have answered every possible question for us except for one: what are we supposed to do all day?”

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: The Puffy Chair is my other favorite example of the genre. Bujalski’s follow-up Mutual Appreciation was also amiably appealing.

How Available Is It?: The dvd has a bizarre, oddly hypnotic commentary by an unidentified “Russian film scholar” who may just be pulling our leg.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: The Day Bill Told Off His Boss!


Unknown said...

Loved what you wrote about "Funny Ha Ha". "Conflict Avoidance" IS today's Modern World Curse! Having lived in Europe for more than 3 decades now, I believe the "Bourgeois Concept" can only be fully understood after living over here for a few years. Friends in the US are always telling me they have no time and often tell me I have too much free time... Artist and photograper, I do most of my work at home, yet may a day after hours of work, I ask myself: "Now what do I do?" From my side of "The Pond" I silently respond, "You remind me of chickens running around the farm after having their heads cut off..." When you've lived away from your homeland you realize how quickly lanuage changes too. I recently learned the potilically correct term for "slitting one's wrist" is "cutting one's self"...
Did some someone just say "Bizzare"? or am I hearing voices???
Thanks Matt! :-)

Anonymous said...

It no more than reserve

Uncle Killa said...

Man listen, I spent a year at Cinetic Media in 2005-2006 interning and watching super boring low budget movies that these recent Weslyan, NYU and Vassar attending executives (younger than me mind you) loved.

I didn't get them. I think Buja(washisname) visited the office once and they got all abuzz and because asked me if I knew who he was, because I wasn't excited.

I said, umm "The computer repair guy maybe?"

Maybe it was because of my Black American perspective. Anyway I spent the whole of 13 months there trying to convince them to support the kind of movies that now Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels are making.

Puffy Chair, are you kidding? Next time I go home to Virginia, I'll take a camcorder and video tape the Greyhound Bus ride, that would be more moving and riveting.