REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES SEEN, JULY 2013
All films from U.S.A. unless otherwise specified.
([v] video piece; [s] short, under 30 minutes; [m] medium length, 30-69 min; * grade changed upon repeat viewing)
If you happen to go back through the site and look at my reviews of Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation, and Beeswax (which is not something I suggest that you do), you'll see that I detected the importance of Bujalski as a director pretty much from the start. I'm not mentioning this in order to pat myself on the back for foresight. What you'd find if you look back at those reviews is that I was deeply ambivalent about those early films, only really beginning with Beeswax to find Bujalski getting out of his own way. Little did I know that the answer to Bujalski's passive-aggressive cul-de-sac was to adjust his perspective with historical displacement. The origins of artificial intelligence truly are "another country," a distant colony of nerds with different horizons. Here's my extended Nashville Scene piece.
As some of you faithful readers know (and by "readers," in this case I mean frequent observers of ongoing patches of blank space, places where I have promised to post reviews but have long delivered none), I sometimes struggle to find the proper words to describe a film or video that nonetheless strikes me as meaningful or important. Typically we think of those moments -- the reaction that is clearly there but cannot yet form itself into interpretive language -- as being primarily visceral, gut-level. The work in question has accessed emotional reserves within us that we are unaccustomed to acknowledging, much less articulating. But this is not the only way in which words can fail us. There is also a more intellectual silence, when the object in question seems so self-sufficient that it's difficult to know what we can add to it with our critical discourse. That is to say, we know that the word is good, and well-made, and socially important. But it could be that there's a frank objectivity to the work itself that makes a lot of extra discussion redundant. I don't mean "objectivity" in the typical sense -- unbiased and based solely in empirical fact. I'm using the word much more in a materialist or sculptural sense. The work may be so precise in its aims that all we could do is explicate them, or just point.
Yoel Meranda's documentary essay, made in the midst of the Gezi Park protests in Turkey at the end of last May, is a clean piece of post-Marker "cine-tract" reportage. Meranda conveys the events (the growing public consensus against President Erdogan, the heavy-handed response), the experience of being in the thick of events on June 9, and, through his editing and phenomenological awareness, a broader sense of the current event in history. All this is felt, as you watch it, in part no doubt because Meranda was both thinking about it and feeling it while he was filming, and looking over his shoulder. See for yourself.
There. I'm pointing.
On a purely narrative level, the interesting and I would perhaps even say innovative thing about Drinking Buddies is the fact that it stakes its entire filmic being on a premise that is not only contra-canonical in rom-com cinema, but in conventional hipster-bohemian thinking. (Let me pause for a moment here. I do not mean to spew the word "hipster" with spittle and invective, the way Armond White does. It should be read here as a simple adjective, with no stank on it.) The going line in post-boomer thinking, I believe -- those of us who are struggling so mightily to do the opposite of all the shit our parents did -- is that long-term heterosexual couples are supposed to be the result of a lot of serial monogamy trial-and-error in our 20s and early 30s, until we realize that we're supposed to end up with Our Best Friend. The whole rom-com system is about compressing this journey into a dualistic choice, where the blinkered man pursues the ice queen, only to discover that the search is over, love was right here all along, and Best Friend Girl happens to be gorgeous when she lets her hair down or takes off her glasses or whatever. We all know this. But part of the unspoken ideology underpinning this system is a big, whopping lie: the idea that adult heterosexual women and heterosexual men can't be friends. So part of what makes Drinking Buddies unique (apart from the fact that Swanberg can tamp down his directorial idiosyncrasies and make something resembling a studio film, when he wants / needs to -- who knew?) is its exploration of this problem, and its far more humanistic conclusions. Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are friends because they are so alike. They are bitter, a bit unstable, and are still developing the skills necessary to be open, supportive partners to another person. They relate to each other. They can read each other. And this is why they cannot be together. As Swanberg shows us in their brief romantic interlude, Kate and Luke would destroy each other in a relationship, precisely because they are too alike, and where a relationship would demand mutual support and complementary skill sets, they just fail each other and then go for each other's most vulnerable spots in the subsequent fight. While Drinking Buddies quite reasonably establishes that there will be a latent element of physical attraction in Luke and Kate's friendship, it also makes it clear that no amount of "cleaning up good" or spectacles-removal will make them the perfect couple. They are something else. Swanberg's film acknowledges other human dimensions that most films of its kind cannot. And I think that it's here, and not so much in style or form, that we see the director's authorial signature. Swanberg's work, even when I have not liked it very much, has always been about tapping into spaces of ambiguity in terms of human interaction and relationality. So I think it's fair to say only Swanberg could have made Drinking Buddies. Welcome to the Big Time, Joe.
Here's my review for The Nashville Scene. As expected, the controversial subject matter produced a lot of comments, and luckily the discussion was both civil and mutually informative. If there's anything about the experience that left a bad taste in my mouth, it's the fact (alluded to in my final comment in the thread) that I find myself on the side of Big Amusement, and by extension, big business. In the age of multi-generational captivity, my sense is that Sea World really does have the ability to care for whales who are incapable of caring for themselves. Oh, and I couldn't have pulled this one off without my Better Half.