Funny Ha Ha – and Friends

I’m less and less enthusiastic about this new wave of independent films the more of them I see. So far, I’ve caught:

– The Puffy Chair
– Quiet City
– Funny Ha Ha

I’m planning to catch these soon:

– Hannah Takes the Stairs
– Dance Party USA

The movement is being called “Mumblecore” and even “Slackavettes.” I applaud the stripped-down style. I like the raw connections between characters, and the push and pull that happens between them at a basic relational level. I wouldn’t mind if one of these filmmakers would tackle lifestyles other than the 20-something crowd.

One of my criticisms of the three films I’ve seen is that characterizations often become a little too stripped-down so that characters are rendered too self-consciously “natural.” But that is a general criticism. There are moments that hold a spark for me, and I noticed that I was smiling a lot in scenes where characters were piling words up in conversation on top of their obvious attractions or aversions.

The passive behavior of many of the characters was annoying for me at times, since I’m used to dramatic tension and the release of tension that usually appens in more aggressive ways in narrative cinema. Funny Ha Ha didn’t offer the normal narrative cues for why people put up with the things they put up with. These characters (with the exception of the main character in “The Puffy Chair”) are grossly passive aggressive if they are aggressive at all.

It strikes me that the usual ways of understanding characters through their motivations doesn’t always work in these films. Some of these characters seem so detached that asking what their motivations are is not always helpful for engaging them or understanding them. What do I expect that their motivations would be? – This is often a better question for understanding how I’m approaching these films. Might these filmmakers be subverting the impulse the viewer has to try to understand these characters? These characters are on display, not to be understood so much as to be followed and engaged and related to. I might change my mind about this.


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