Mumblecore Icon Gets “Results”

Halfway through the DVD Results I had the distinct feeling that everyone – the lead actors (Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan), the supporting cast (Anthony Michael Hall, Brooklyn Decker) and writer/director Andrew Bujalski – knew exactly what they were doing … except me and (possibly) the dog. 

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As Bob Dylan says in “Ballad of a Thin Man” (in a completely different context) “And you know something’s happening here/But you don’t know what it is/Do you,Mr. Jones?”

After  reading on the Net about Mr. Bujalski’s involvement in what is sometimes known as “mumblecore” it all made sense.

Briefly, early so-called “mumblecore” films were characterized by a minimal budget that  wouldn’t cover an A-lister’s lunch break (early mumblecore icon Joe Swanberg  shot his cheapest film for $3,000) or (evidently) involved much preparation (Greta Gerwig, a “star” of early mumblecore films, is quoted on the UK website theguardian.com as saying “…. We’d get up in the morning, have breakfast together and say, ‘What do you wanna shoot today?’ “) The focus of those films was to capture life at its most basic and real. To this end, early films employed non-professional actors. Dialogue was often improvised to preserve the naturalness of human speech. As Ryan Gilbey wrote on The Guardian website  “…  Not for nothing is there an ‘um’ in the word ‘mumblecore’.”

Decider.com traces the roots of so-called mumblecore films to the DIY efforts of John Cassevetes (such as 1959’s Shadows) but to me it sounds a lot like Italian neo-realism, most notably 1950’s The Bicycle Thief (reviewed elsewhere in this blog) 

Over a period of time  people in the entertainment industry began to take note of this supposedly new approach to making movies.

No less an authority than New York Times proclaimed (and I quote):” …. mumblecore bespeaks a true 21st-century sensibility, reflective of MySpace-like social networks and the voyeurism and intimacy of YouTube. It also signals a paradigm shift in how movies are made and how they find an audience. ‘This is the first time, mostly because of technology, that someone like me can go out and make a film with no money and no connections,’ said Aaron Katz, whose movies “Dance Party USA” and “Quiet City” will be shown as part of a 10-film mumblecore series at the IFC Center … ” (In a review of “Quiet City” NY Times reviewer Stephen Holden writes: “Quiet City” belongs to the movie genre labeled mumblecore, so named partly because the young, nerdy characters in these films rarely address any subject outside their immediate social sphere. If they don’t actually mumble their words, the tone of their conversations is restricted to various shades of chat, much of which seems trivial,)

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Film-maker ANDREW BUJALSKI “Yes, I said it. But I didn’t think you would take me seriously.”

No matter what the definition, Bujalski, while admitting that a staff member (sound designer Eric Musunaga) coined the term and he (Bujalski) first used it ( in an interview with indiewire.com), disavows the label as applying to an organized school of film-making : “I’m the one who accidentally unleashed it,” he told The Guardian in  2013. “I made the error of repeating to a journalist what Eric had said. Though I did say that there wasn’t a movement, and that even if there was, this would be a ridiculous name for it.”

Swanberg also voiced his distaste with the label: ““It was an obnoxious name nobody liked and it was meant to be a joke …  But we haven’t been able to get rid of it.”

 “Name” stars eager to get into The Next Big Thing and/or seeking refuge from roles in mind-numbing formula flicks began to seek out so-called “mumblecore” movies. In the process, the makers of these films began to get bigger budgets to play with. Swanberg recently filmed Drinking Buddies with Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick. The Duplass Brothers, Jay and Mark, makers of lo-fi flicks like The Puffy  Chair and Baghead teamed up with Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly to film Cyrus ; made an unlikely leading man out of Mark  (Safety Not Guaranteed) and are working on a HBO series (Togetherness).  Lynn Shelton, referred to by one critic as “the godmother of mumblecore”,  has directed episodes of New Girl and The Mindy Project and recently filmed  Laggies with Keira Knightley and Chloë Grace Moretz. As for Ms. Gerwig, she has worked with Woody Allen and Whit Stillman on recent films and starred and co-wrote (with current squeeze, writer/director Noah Baumbach) Francis Ha!  (also reviewed in this blog). 

As for Results I understood better what Bujalski was doing on the second viewing of the film. Without sampling the DVD extras or peeking at other reviews (it would only confuse me) I figured the primary theme is the difficulty of communicating one’s true feelings and ideas to another human. Trevor (Pearce), for example, is the musclebound owner of a gym, Power4 Life, which espouses his personal philosophy (the 4 stands for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual growth. The irony here is that Trevor is not in touch with his own emotions.) He is willing to confess he has “a genuine longing” for Kat (Smulders), a prickly personal trainer  with issues of her own,  but the words “I love You” stick in his throat. Attempting to  convince his idol, a Russian wrestler named Grigory (played by Hall, complete with Slavic accent) to appear at his gym he says “We’re talking about the same thing … but getting at it in a different way.” 

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Model/actress Brooklyn Decker plays Grigory’s trophy wife

The  third member of this unlikely love triangle is Danny (Corrigan), a pudgy schlub who has inherited a lot of money and doesn’t quite what to do with it. So … he spends his time ordering pizza, noodling on his guitar and convincing himself that Kat (whom he has booked as his trainer) has a thing for him, even though he freely admits the only thing they have in common is “boredom and depression.” (Trevor’s personal life is not much better. He spends his off hours fooling around with his drum set, playing with his dog and fooling around on his laptop.)

With Bujalski’s disciplined direction the personalities created by the hard-working cast  act from character, not hackneyed plot twist or sudden realization. They may  find what they are looking for but like a blind person feeling his or her way in the dark. 

Thanks to the film-maker’s insistence on capturing the natural rhythms of human speech – I assume – Australia-based actor Pearce gets a chance to speak with an Aussie accent for the first (and, perhaps, only time) in an American-made film. (Still, it is a bit of a novelty to hear the actor, who has spoken with a convincing -to me – American accent  in such films as Memento and L.A. Confidential talking like Crocodile Dundee.) So what`s an Aussie doing in Austin operating a gym. The film never tells us. Bujalski is interested primarily in how Trevor interacts with the people in his life – not his backstory.

So-called mumblecore films have an affinity for taking Hollywood formulas and turning them upside down. Think of Results  as a Hollywood rom-com as viewed through a funhouse mirror and if that idea holds an appeal you should be okay.

Like I said. I had to watch it twice.  

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Author: rixbitz

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