Funny Ha Ha

2003, Movie, NR, 85 mins

Review

FUNNY HA HA
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Twenty-six-year-old writer/director/editor Andrew Bujalski's ultra-indie, shot-on-16mm variation on REALITY BITES (1994) begins with a tattoo artist refusing to ink 23-going-on-24 Marnie (Kate Dollenmayer) because she's drunk, and ends with her enmeshed in a conversation about whether it would be better to be 13 feet tall or to have eyes on stalks on the top of your head. In between, she finds that navigating the transition from college to grown-up life is endlessly confusing and impossible to get under control. She's still hanging around Boston with her college friends, who are marking time in temp positions or starter jobs, living like students but starting to worry that they should be building real lives — though they don't have any idea how. They all try to play cool, but get bogged down in childish inarticulateness and hide behind reflexive irony when they think they're about to be hurt. Her core group of friends includes apparently perfect couple Rachel (Jennifer L. Schaper) and Dave (Myles Paige); best friend Alex (Christian Rudder, of indie-pop band Bishop Allen) and Alex's outgoing sister Susan (Lissa Patton Rudder). Marnie's awkward crush on Alex sits between them like the proverbial elephant, even after he breaks up with his girlfriend, Nina (Vanessa Bertozzi), and he vacillates between holding out a slender hope of future romance and pulling back. The trouble with Marnie's life is that it's all funny-weird rather than funny-ha ha, like when Dave kisses her or Alex abruptly marries Nina without a word of warning. Her attempts to cope — from the awkward to-do list (complete with hand-drawn check boxes) she draws neatly in a notebook to her calm, practical response to finding a drunken friend passed out in her car — are both childish and almost adult. Nothing much happens, except that Marnie gets together a few times with Mitchell (Bujalski), the quintessential nice guy girls never actually date; you know that's going to end badly. Bujalski started working on the project shortly after his own graduation from Harvard; it oozes a palpable sense of miserable, soul-sapping post-collegiate torpor and has the loopy, unfocused rhythms of Richard Linklater's SLACKER (1991). The cast of nonprofessionals — star Dollenmayer, a college friend of Bujalski's, was an animator on Linklater's 2001 WAKING LIFE — give low-key performances that feel deliberately awkward rather than amateurish. The look is rough, but Bujalski's talent is evident. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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