Thursday, March 15, 2007

Movie Chat: Funny Ha Ha

Funny Ha Ha

There are some cartoonists, who despite having limited cartooning chops, manage to make a virtue of necessity through their choice of subject matter and through a judicious, thoughtful use of the technique they do possess. These cartoonists are so able to make their limitations part of what makes their work interesting and compelling that it raises the question of to what extent is it accurate to talk about "limitations" in the first place. That is, these cartoonists may not be able to pull off things that more accomplished cartoonists might, but, since they're not even trying, isn't it a non-issue?

That's kind of how I felt watching Funny Ha Ha, even though the limitations there are mostly logistical and self-imposed. Andrew Bujalski makes a virtue of necessity in that, for example, the non-actors on screen trying not to "act" are awkward in a way that adds to the movie's overall depiction of post-collegiate awkwardness instead of getting in the way (as is unfortunately the case with a lot of purposeful artlessness in indie movies, where it's often unreadable and ends up turning into something like a Rorschach blot).

I guess I can see how the whole non-technique thing might be a little grating, but I was glad I was able to go with its flow as the payoff - sharply observed moments of twentysomething self-delusion - was worth it. I'd also guess that how close you are to the material (i.e. how close you are to living the kind of life that the hipsters/slackers, nerds/dorks in the movie live) is going to loom large in your response. For instance, I thought it was a pretty accurate yet sympathetic catalog of the different ways guys and gals of my age and with (more or less) my background make asses of themselves when it comes to romance. My girlfriend, though, identified fairly strongly with the main character, and found it a bit more painful to watch. In terms of cringe-worthiness, its like Curb Your Enthusiasm without the punchlines.

But, that aside, I have a great deal of affection and good will for a project like this. I like Noah Baumbach's movies, but, as modest a filmmaker as he is, they still cost a few million dollars to make. Though the obscenity of the money spent on movies doesn't really get to me unless I start dwelling too long on something like Talladega Nights (why does a Will Ferrell comedy need to be such a gargantuan production?), it's nice to see that Bujalski has come up with a method (both in terms of making movies and in getting them out there to an audience) that thrives on not needing lots of money to make work. That is, a Funny Ha Ha remake done by, say, Baumbach and Wes Anderson, with a cast of genuine actors, would probably lose the "honesty" that makes the movie work.

("Honesty" is in quotes, of course, because the "this is real life" look-and-feel of Funny Ha Ha is, making a virtue of necessity or not, still a - I don't want to use the word "calculated" - conscious, aesthetic choice.)

Anyway, I like this movie a lot and would recommend unreservedly to people of my age and background: you either know these people or have been these people. I'd recommend it with reservations to other folks, but I can definitely vouch for its anthropological value.

1 comment:

Crim said...

At this point in my life, a good movie is anything that I choose to stay awake (past 9:00 p.m.)to watch. I thought the movie was sort of weird and uncomfortable - because it was too much like the low, uneventful, pathetic parts in my own life (not now - but in the past). But the fact that I stayed awake to keep watching it means that it must have been good.