Mutual Appreciation

(USA - 2005)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Justin Rice, Rachel Clift, Andrew Bujalski, Seung-Min Lee, Kevin Micka
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Screenplay: Andrew Bujalski
Cinematography: Matthias Grunsky
Composer: Justin Rice & Kevin Micka, Bishop Allen

Andrew Bujalski maintains Funny Ha Ha’s themes of directionless post-grads in a pre-adult limbo waiting for something to happen but fearing commitment and responsibility. Shifting from his Boston hometown to an artistic and preppy quarter hub in New York City and going for the even more retro look of 16mm black and white, Bujalski moves even further from anything remotely resembling a plot or character arc.

What story this anti-drama contains involves a love triangle between upstart musician Alan (Justin Rice) who moves to NY after his band breaks up, reuniting with a “close” old friend Lawrence (Andrew Bujalski) and awkwardly considering a relationship with Lawrence’s girlfriend Ellie (Rachel Clift) while resisting the advances of radio DJ Sara (Seung-Min Lee), whose brother Dennis (Kevin Micka) becomes his drummer. All of this is rather meaningless beyond the grand scheme of things, as Bujalski’s point is these people don’t know how to succeed because they can’t interact on anything even reminiscent to the emotional level. They are bound by the mundane when they are sober, but even with drugs they are too emotionally inarticulate to connect. The movie is all about wanting to communicate but having no clue how to do so, with the babbling mumblecore dialogue being an expression of their inner confusion.

Bujalski refuses to elevate the scenes to a level beyond what they are, a series of fairly common occurrences in the lives of people who are solitary due to a disconnection. Avoiding the usual Oscar mongering outbursts, Bujalski instead conveys the characters shyness in subtly pitiful and humorous ways where confusion breads tentativeness, and vice versa. Mutual Appreciation is perhaps best enjoyed by those who find beauty in the mundane, as it resides completely in the slice of socially angst ridden mode. The pleasures are subtle and minor, for instance Cinematographer Matthias Grunsky casually utilizing the shabby interiors to stage awkward little ironies such as a bed as the only place for a man and a woman who aren’t having sex to sit.

Music plays an important role in the story because it presents an alternative means of expression, but even though it’s toned down to rhythms so simplistic it’s hard to find a drummer who is willing to resist the temptation to instead play something remotely challenging and dynamic, it fails to bring others closer to your soul. That may be a good thing for people so adept in the coded speech of willful evasion, but Alan finds he must essentially be a solo artist because he can’t relate with others well enough to make a band work.

There will be no resolution and the characters will not particularly change, which probably makes Mutual Appreciation slightly more honest than even Funny Ha Ha. These twentysomethings will remain the well book educated but socially inept slacker children of parents who have sheltered them and kept them afloat until the pieces manage to fall into place or they simply outgrow the role in their 30’s or 40’s. Bujalski’s isn’t going to pat us on the back with the promise of moving on to something bigger and better, his value lies in incorporating his keen but understated perceptions about human relations interpersonal relations into the most ordinary scenes of interaction.

I felt Mutual Appreciation was a few steps in reverse from Bujalski’s masterful debut Funny Ha Ha, predominantly because while I recognize and relate to a lot of it, none of it is positive. This is not to say I want films that provide a false sense of security and hope, but Funny Ha Ha was built around a great character Marnie, and I miss her stubborn willfulness. Marnie & Alan’s worldview isn’t so different, but Marnie was far more interesting because she was determined to do and learn something, even if it was wrong and ultimately might not make her “successful”, so you felt as though she might grow, the world might get a little clearer for her even thought it would always be a jumped incoherent mess.



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