Tag Archives: Mumblecore

Lady Bird

13 Nov


Greta Gerwig, the mumblecore queen who scored a breakthrough performance in Noah Baumbach’s Woody Allen-esque “Frances Ha” (2102) gets behind the lens for this semi-autobiographical reflection about a girl coming of age in Sacramento in the early 2000s. If there’s any question about how true to the bird it is, Gerwig is in her early thirties – would have been a senior in high school then, grew up in in Sacramento and attended a Catholic school, just like protagonist Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), aka the “Lady Bird” of the title, struggling to find the right boy to surrender her virginity to and the funds to go to college.

The intimate nature of the film (Gerwig also writes, but does not appear) builds in subtle yet palpable strokes with a devilishly barbed edge as it tackles the mandatory rites of senior year: prom, sex and college acceptance. One of the many angles that makes Christine such an intriguing character study isn’t so much her sass with a dash of surly, or red-shocked (dyed) locks that give her a tint of goth-punk, but the fact she’s a perpetual outsider, not religious and not well off, going to a parochial school and running in circles of affluence while dad (an endearing Tracy Letts), an outdated computer programmer, can’t land a job and mom (Laurie Metcalf, giving the best mom performance of the year behind Allison Janney in “I,Tonya”) hold the house together with stoic tough love.

In short, Christine is in a continually uphill battle – part of it her own obstinance – and along the way makes some provocative (and questionable) choices, be it the dumping of her weight-challenged best friend (Beanie Feldstein) for the popular rich girl (Odeya Rush) or her choices in men, the nice guy who’s too nice (Lucas Hedges, so good in “Manchester by the Sea”) and the cool hipster (Timothée Chalamet) about as deep as his veneer.

Many are hailing this as Gerwig’s directorial debut, though she has a co-directorial credit with mumblecore stalwart Joe Swanberg on “Nights and Weekends” (2008). She’s also worked on several projects with Baumbach and has clearly been a keen observer of technique and orchestration. The result is quite mature and astute for such a nascent filmmaker, but is it groundbreaking? No – let us not forget Orson Welles pumping out “Citizen Kane” at 24 – but it is fresh and has a bite that feels different even while treading in the same pool as other fine female coming-of-age efforts in the recent past – ”Palo Alto” (2013) and the more accomplished “Diary of a Teenage Girl.” Gerwig seems focused and intent behind the camera, which plays against her usual screen presence as pleasantly generic quirky waif.

The real score for Gerwig and the film, however, is the casting of Ronan, a highly accomplished and capable actress who, in her early twenties, has been up for an Academy Award twice already (“Atonement” and “Brooklyn”). There’s never a moment on the screen that you don’t feel and believe every tic and motivation running through Christine’s veins. It’s seems so natural and fluent, you don’t think of it as acting. But don’t be fooled; it’s one of the year’s best performances.

“Lady Bird” is the kind of indie film like such recent hits “Moonlight” or “Boyhood” that possess mainstream crossover and critical appeal. It should also position Gerwig and Ronan as A-listers, able to call their own shots.


Get Out

24 Feb

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is a devilish little bit of social commentary that takes the essence of “Guess Who’s Coming to Diner” and forces it, with vehemence but also panache, into a “Wicker Man”/“Stepford Wives” construct. The result is something clearly borrowed, incredibly fresh and nearly perfect in light of the current political climate. What’s also remarkable is that the horror flick-cum-black comedy marks Peele’s directorial debut, and a surprising one at that – not only because is it so sharp and confident, but also because Mr. Peele is better known as half of the comedy team of Key and Peele on Comedy Central.

The setup’s simple enough. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an aspiring photog, agrees reluctantly to meet the parents of his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams of “Girls”), whom he’s been dating for five months – just long enough to have to take these things seriously.

“Do they know I’m black?” Chris asks, a question that the lily-white Rose shrugs off, telling him that her dad would have voted for a Obama for a third time if he had the chance. It’s a pointed little barb, but since “Get Out” started filming long before it played at Sundance in January, I’m not certain Peele understood the whole political backdrop he’d be facing. Given the results of the election, the daggers the film throws couldn’t be any more on point. Continue reading


5 Jun

Sometimes having everything makes you empty. Such is the paradox explored in Andrew Bujalski’s “Results,” part fable, part human experiment in desire, fears and means, and perhaps the most offbeat love triangle to grace the screen since Joe Swanberg’s brew-mance “Drinking Buddies.” It’s an apt comparison too, with Swanberg a stalwart of the mumblecore filmmaking movement and Bujalski long considered its godfather with such lo-fi (and low-audio) efforts as “Funny Ha Ha” and “Computer Chess.” With “Results,” however, Boston-born and Harvard-educated Bujalski goes upscale with some A-minus-list actors and a bigger budget – although what that figure is seems to be a secret to all but Bujalski and the NSA.

060515i ResultsBujalski’s first film cost just $30,000 to make (it grossed about $75,000) and starred no-name actors; here he’s blessed with the reliable Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill in the “Avengers” movie and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” television series) and character actor Kevin Corrigan (“Superbad” and “Goodfellas”) who steps to the fore and delivers a knockout performance. “Results” is based on the well-being fad, in which everyone wants to get physically and emotionally fit and fortified. Danny (Corrigan) newly and painfully out of a marriage he didn’t want to exit, transplants to Austin. He’s doughy, rich and angry. He also wants to be able to take a punch, so he signs up for a personal trainer at Power for Life, a boutique health spa run by Trevor (a gaunt and toned Pearce) who pushes the philosophy that wellness is more than physical beauty, even though his crew of crack coaches look like magazine cover specimens. The upbeat but aggressive Kat (Smulders) gets the assign and spends time at Danny’s palatial spread trying to get him lean and buff, but he drags her down into his routine of single-malt scotch and weed. Turns out she’s a bit depressed and angry too. If there’s a deadbeat client, Kat’s more than happy to switch over to into loan collector mode, and boy can she run – look out Lola, she’s on your tail.   Continue reading

Drinking Buddies

13 Sep

‘Drinking Buddies’: Smart romance shows mumblecore master ready for mainstream

By Tom Meek
September 12, 2013


What happens when your best friend and co-worker is a member of the opposite sex and you’re hopelessly attracted to them but can’t pursue anything because you’re in a long-term relationship heading toward matrimony? That’s the situation Joe Swanberg’s neo-slacker essay plumbs, and it gets even more complicated when Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) bring their significant others along for a couples getaway in the woods. In the middle of the night, after some silly drinking games, the two, who work at a Chicago micro-brewery, sneak down to the beach and forge a raging bonfire. The sexual tension’s aflame too, a veritable tinderbox of unrequited passion, needy and raw and open to that game-changing spark. You might feel sorry for their SOs, but they’re not so innocent themselves; earlier in the day, Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Chris (Ron Livingston) went out for a hike, drank some wine and after an awkward conversation about love, life and fulfillment, also rolled perilously close to the precipice of crossing over.

091313i Drinking BuddiesIf there’s one thing painfully obvious (like, “My Best Friend’s Wedding” obvious), it’s that Luke and Kate are meant to be together, but thankfully Swanberg – one of the early adaptors of mumblecore filmmaking (the lo-fi indie film movement in which production values, most notably sound, play second fiddle to the visceral and ideological elements) along with the Duplass brothers (“Puffy Chair”) and Andrew Bujalski (“Funny Ha Ha”) – is after something a bit more nuanced and un-Hollywood. For inexplicable reasons Chris leaves Kate, which further enables Kate and Luke’s hop-infused brewmance. The pair, along with other vat rats from work, spend many a late night lighting up the dingy side of Chicago, while Jill, conveniently a teacher, sits at home toiling away on art projects for her special-needs students.  Continue reading