Directed by Andrew Bujalski
It’s hard to have a conversation about an Andrew Bujalski movie that’s actually about an Andrew Bujalski movie. And not about, that is, young, mostly white, mostly male liberal-artsy urbanites singing the lives and loves of themselves or people like them, in inexpensive film or video and unscripted, (get ready) mumbly dialogue. Without proclaiming the inherent truthfulness of stammering, casual aesthetics and actors with zits (on their faces or elsewhere), or damning the wankery of people who write what they know, obsessively, I’ll just say that in the three films Bujalski has built around acquaintances traversing their twenties in this century’s first decade — aimless postcollegiates in Boston in Funny Ha Ha (2002), vaguely creative Williamsburg transplants in Mutual Appreciation (2005), and now the Austinite vintage store owner, unemployed teacher and law student of Beeswax — there hasn’t been a moment that has struck me as other than (awkwardly, hilariously) true.
This in itself is not everybody’s idea of a good time — fair enough, but still, mind Beeswax’s formal elegance. Bujalski’s subject has always been characters defined by the gaps between what they mean and what they say or do (haltingly and halfheartedly, guarding against embarrassment); here, miscommunication, across multiple modes, is his organizing structure, from the opening scene of a telephone call interrupted by crossed wires in-person. Jeannie (Tilly Hatcher) co-owns Storyville; concerned about her partner’s intimations of a lawsuit, she, sister Lauren (real-life twin Maggie Hatcher) and bar-cramming ex-beau Merrill (Alex Karpovsky) decode the mixed signals. Conversations are evasions and noncommittals, their hesitant conclusions reversed with brutal clarity by more formal communiqués like emails and letters; calls and talks with intermediaries are parsed afterwards for hidden meanings.
The scramble is for understanding, professional and personal. Jeannie is, like Tilly Hatcher, wheelchair-bound; Merrill pops wheelies in it while she sits on her bed — an image that says a lot about his familiarity with her disability, and thus the importance for Jeannie of keeping him in her life. Indeed, throughout Beeswax are these nudge-yourself moments, of incidental details just nailed: my favorite is Katy O’Connor as Jeannie’s employee Corinne, devoted to all the right causes but helplessly passive at actual work, and finishing her sentences with a responsibility-abdicating “so…” Heartening, too, is Bujalski’s developing interest in visual pleasure (though his framings don’t always keep up with the action): Beeswax plays off Storyville’s smoothie-colored used-threads palette, because it’s ok if your slice-of-life indie movie looks nice, too.
Opens August 7 at Film Forum