‘There There’ Review: Andrew Bujalski’s Clever Gimmick Offers COVID Cinema Done Right – IndieWire | Episode Movies

Support the Girls director Andrew Bujalski returns with a pandemic-era comedy that was filmed without any of the actors being together.

Mumblecore deity Andrew Bujalski has always had the ability to make something out of nothing, a gift so inherent in his strengths as a storyteller – and possibly his worldview as a human being – that the less-is-more look of his films often their endearing but isolated characters seem to rub off, as if form and content were linked by each other’s inability to connect with a wider audience.

Some entries on Bujalski’s resume are more aggressively lo-fi than others; Highlights of his career include a drab workplace dramedy about the wives of a Texas “breastaurant” and a semi-impromptu oddity about rival nerds comparing their computer chess programs at a California hotel in 1980 (which were shot in blurry black-and-white during the period). . -appropriate video cameras just to make sure it wasn’t too sexy). And yet all of his films tend to draw their spark from the friction between intimacy and aesthetics, just as they tend to find their meaning by exploring the intimacy of aesthetics.

Never – not even during the halcyon days of 2002’s Funny Ha Ha – has Bujalski worked with less than in his restless new whatsit There There, never has he come up with anything as plain-looking as this COVID-19 iPhone. era, and never before has he made a film that is more concerned with how we see the space that separates people. While the mildly amusing end product falls short compared to the rest of the filmmaker’s output, the project’s highly conceptual construction is clever enough to maintain the meandering story it tells.

At its best, the deceptively simple “There There” amounts to a clinical deconstruction of why even Bujalski’s simplest work is more complex than just two people talking to each other, and it will make fans want to visit the writer/director again now scale that life is something like normal again.

Shot at the height of the pandemic, There There is a gimmick film so understated you might not even see it doing anything out of the ordinary. On the other hand, the story — “story” is a big word for what’s really just a series of one-on-one conversations between randomly connected characters, with each scene separated by a musical interlude by The War on Drugs multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez — is flimsy in a way intended to draw attention to its narrative.

You can see it in the two post-coital POV shots that two strangers (a bright-eyed nurse played by Lili Taylor and a genius effeminate restaurateur played by Lennie James) get together the morning after they met at his bar imagined in bed . Or at least it looks like they’re in bed together; In reality, none of the actors in this film were ever in the same room, let alone under the same sheets (cameraman Matthias Grunsky shot them all remotely via the FiLMiC Pro app on an iPhone Pro Max 12, a plausible strategy in a film where the camera never moves).

As a result, no two members of Bujalski’s cast are ever in the same frame, as the writer/director relies on narrative context, sonic continuity, and surgically precise eye line to convince our brains to go “there” and “there.” combine” into a single “here”. It’s essentially a more extreme version of the same phenomenon that allows us to maintain the shared reality between two different shots in any other film, but the effect is just so faint that you can’t help but lean forward and to trying to find a sense of how the actors relate to each other in space, and that — crucially — inspires an unusual curiosity about how their characters relate to each other in deeper ways.

Taylor and James share a sizzling edgy chemistry, but the real tension in their first scene together comes from that palpable sense of natural intimacy that gives way to uncomfortable isolation as the lust of their night together is exposed to the harsh light of day. Bujalski’s framing creates an elusive barrier as your mind engages with questions you may not need to ask with other films (e.g. whose apartment are they in?); It’s the feeling that someone is right next to you and a million miles away at the same time.

“There There”

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

“There There” captures that sentiment with such panache – and with such well-drawn characters – that Bujalski’s uninterest in following through with any of it proves frustrating by the end, as he’s more interested in tracing what a character does as “the tapestry of people who hold me above myself” as he ties one of his various threads together. This is clearly more of an exercise than a movie, which is just a sore point because it feels like it’s just a few scenes away from the closures that it would have taken to make a more complete meal.

With the exception of an aggressive social media entrepreneur (Avi Nash) and his guilt-ridden lawyer (Jason Schwartzman, who communes with the dead in the only part of the film that lacks any kind of pulse), every character here is messy and rugged and intriguing enough to follow beyond the two scenes Bujalski each gives them to play out. That’s especially true of Annie LaGanga’s mother hawk of an AA sponsor, who shows Taylor some hard love before jumping into the film’s best scene: a parent-teacher conference during which she meets her teenage son’s disaffected young English teacher (a excellent Molly) confronts Gordon) about the upskirt footage her child takes in class and then shares on the internet.

The encounter is brittle, unexpected, and mutually empathetic, as Bujalski’s odd technique allows these two women to feel quite self-possessed and wildly detached at the same time. The shared space between these characters is stretched into something raw and unforgiving, each cut severing the tendons of trust and belief that once held it together. By the end of the scene, it feels like a single two-shot is enough to create world peace. Anything seems possible – even dangerous – when two people show trust and trust in each other.

Trust and trust in one another isn’t just what “There There” is about, but how it was made (which might explain the comforting undertones of its title), but the collaborative energy required to sustain Bujalski’s pandemic Creating a sketch seems to have exhausted his willingness to pull it off on screen, and the film runs out of steam as if shot in real time. Yet the essence of its author’s work has seldom been more readable than here.

“There There” is seminal in one way and relic in another (it would have had a lot more impact if it had come out last November). It takes its cues from the basic building blocks of cinema and uses them to build a single shrine to modernity. It’s a new Andrew Bujalski film, against all odds, and a compelling reminder to look forward to seeing how he defies them next.

grade B-

Magnolia Pictures brings There There to theaters and VOD on Friday, November 18th.

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