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1 review, 4 user ratings

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Mutual Appreciation
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by Jay Seaver

"One for the introspective."
3 stars

Andrew Bujalski makes movies that drive me nuts. I can plainly see that the man is good with a camera, and his storytelling technique is frequently very impressive. It's no wonder that film scholars find his movies fascinating and important. It's the application of that talent which is so maddening: Chronicling the moments between when people take control of their lives.

There's room for movies about the mundane. Indeed, recording and depicting everyday life is a vital part of why we have art in the first place. Someone from another culture, place, or time can look at Mutual Appreciation and gain an understanding of what the life of a certain group of New Yorkers in the early twenty-first century is like while being entertained a bit. And that sort of anthropological audience, along with the film scholars I'm told are Bujallski's biggest fans, will probably find this film exciting. But the film's drama is low-key, with climaxes and resolution deliberately avoided. It's possible to get excited by this kind of movie, but it requires an effort.

The situation involves singer-songwriter Alan (Justin Rice) coming to New York from Boston, where he's had some success. He's staying with a friend whose girlfriend is overseas for a few months, but spending most of his time with old friend Lawrence (Bujalski), a grad student, and his girlfriend Ellie (Rachel Clift), who works at an alternative weekly newspaper. He's rapidly becoming smitten with Ellie, even though Sara (Seung-Min Lee), a girl who interviews him for a local college radio station, is clearly into him and her brother Dennis (Kevin Micka) is his new drummer.

There's some potential for soap opera here, but it never really materializes. Bujalski's characters are more real than that, so they just have awkward pauses and stop short of doing anything that could jeopardize their existing relationships. In many ways, that's a relief; there's actually a little more tension to be mined from how we really don't know how things will play out. The flip side is that things don't really play out. There's sparks, but everyone stays at arm's length, with just a little forward motion in the last act, and even that is understated. There's a fine line between a film being realistically messy and not having a story, and this one all too often falls on the latter side.

Which is, I gather, deliberate. Bujalski doesn't like easy closure, and while both this film and his previous work, Funny Ha Ha, finish with a decision made about how things will proceed, it's not signalled with a speech or obvious action. Indeed, it's easy to think his movies stop rather than end until you spend a little post-viewing time deciding just what a given film is about (this one feels much more complete if you think of it as Ellie's story rather than Alan's). It's more than that, though - Bujalski doesn't even seem to like scene transitions that much. He avoids showing people entering and leaving a location, even though those are pretty common break points, and he'll jump forward within a scene. It's an interesting style, especially combined with Matthias Grunsky's black-and-white cinematography. The effect reminds my of the French New Wave, in terms of interesting angles and scenes framed for conversation leaving things unsaid. As much as his films don't excite me, their perspective on people in their twenties sort of drifting along during these early years of the twenty-first century is spot-on and arguably important.

Another thing Bujalski does, either out of necessity or preference, is to use relatively inexperienced, often non-professional, actors. Rice is a musician friend of the director's, and the part fits him like a glove as one might expect with it written for him. Similarly, Bujalski wrote his own part with himself in mind (which I think was not the case with Funny Ha Ha), and both characters come off with quirky senses of humor without being overly jokey. Rachel Clift is making her feature debut and she's not exactly a conventional Hollywood leading lady; she's got a kind of asymmetrical face and boyish haircut, and looks real-world cute rather than manufactured. She's able to charm us very quickly. I kind of like Seung-Min Lee, too; she gives Sara this nice blend between being attracted to Alan because he's a musician but not exactly being starry-eyed about it.

Movies like "Mutual Appreciation" frustrate me; I can see where things are done very well, and I figure that they're accomplishing exactly what the filmmakers intend. But I never feel drawn in; if my phone rang or a fire alarm went off, I'd be out of the movie with no looking back. This movie will likely be studied down the line, but I don't know how much it can really be enjoyed now.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11711&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/29/06 00:03:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston. For more in the 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2005 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2005 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2006 Portland Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/17/06 ib Screw the main review, this movie's a gem. 5 stars
6/01/06 San Lamar good 4 stars
10/26/05 landon what a great film...i just wish i could see it again...please someone distribute this movie 5 stars
3/15/05 bp you will not see better acting than this 5 stars
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  DVD: 13-Feb-2007



Directed by
  Andrew Bujalski

Written by
  Andrew Bujalski

  Justin Rice
  Rachel Clift
  Andrew Bujalski
  Seung-Min Lee

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