Title: Funny Ha Ha
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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