Distributor Wanted: Mutual Appreciation
By Amy Taubin
Rohmer in Williamsburg
I bet Andrew Bujalski is sick of reading that he’s the voice of his generation, when most of that neo-slacker demographic has never had the opportunity to see his films. Bujalski’s debut feature, Funny Ha Ha, had a three-year festival wind-up to a privately financed 35mm theatrical release this past spring. It’s now available on a Wellspring DVD with a hilarious commentary track by Bujalski that makes it a must-purchase, even for those who’ve seen the film multiple times. (Bujalski’s fans, this critic included, are nothing if not ardent.) Now it seems that the 26-year-old filmmaker may have no choice but to reprise Funny Ha Ha’s slow route to a theater not necessarily near you with his similarly seductive second feature, Mutual Appreciation. But if I were a member of that nearly extinct species known as “indie distributor,” I’d note the facts that Funny Ha Ha’s frugal release did indeed turn a profit and that the critical attention Bujalski garnered, including an IFP Spirit Award, is bankable.
Like Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation is hardly your standard Amerindie (most of which, by the way, are box-office losers). For one thing, it’s shot on 16mm black-and-white, thus confirming Bujalski’s allegiance to a strain of maverick films—Shadows, Stranger than Paradise, Clerks—that bring poignantly accurate renditions of subcultures of which their directors have intimate knowledge to otherwise homogenized screens. While Cassavetes is the most obvious influence, one might also regard Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciationas Rohmer without subtitles. Both films are “moral tales” whose characters leap to language as offense and defense. In Mutual Appreciation, Alan, an aspiring alt-rocker, arrives in Williamsburg with nothing more than the promise of a gig at Northsix. Exchanging the enchanting Marnie of Funny Ha Ha for the scruffy, less formed Alan allows Bujalski to darken these further adventures in the liminal zone between college and adulthood with a subterranean castration anxiety. Alan ventures down a couple of weird New York rabbit holes in addition to disrupting the relationship between his old college pal and the pal’s girlfriend. The unvarnished actors, including Bujalski as the pal who’s unsure of whether he's being betrayed or not, could not be better.
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