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Vague Young Things 

Andrew Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha

Thursday, Jun 2 2005
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The characters of 27-year-old writer-director Andrew Bujalski’s debut feature, Funny Ha Ha — a gaggle of recently graduated Bostonian college students — express themselves in a generational vernacular that favors such willfully vague terms as “really,” “stuff” and “like.” Their behavior is prone to sudden impulsive gestures, like dropping a bottle of beer from a second-floor balcony, kissing a girlfriend’s best friend, or running off and eloping with a supposed ex. Anything to prevent the ions in the air from becoming too static, too serious — in a word, too grown-up. If that sounds like territory previously claimed by early-1990s Hollywood concoctions like Singles and Reality Bites, so be it. But there is, in any one scene of Bujalski’s film, more lived-in truth than can be found in its precursors.

With a dollop more self-confidence, Marnie (the radiantly shy Kate Dollenmayer) could have most guys at hello. Instead, she’s a girl friend to many and girlfriend to none — a lack of commitment that also applies to her career, where she drifts from dreary temp job to dreary temp job. Marnie does pine for lanky computer programmer Alex (Christian Rudder), to whom she once confessed her feelings in a moment of drunken honesty. Now Alex is on the rebound, but he’s still not interested. Dave (Myles Paige) might be interested, though he shouldn’t be, given that he’s in a long-term relationship with Marnie’s friend Rachel (Jennifer L. Schaper). Marnie’s dorky fellow temp, Mitchell (Bujalski), is definitely interested, though Marnie less so in him. And though she may be no one’s idea of a hero, the indecisive Marnie does throw herself heroically, time and again, into that mysterious void that is being young and smart and completely unsure of yourself.

Like two of his acknowledged influences, John Cassavetes and Mike Leigh (to which one might add the French director Jean Eustache, whose The Mother and the Whore I’d bet is a Bujalski favorite), Bujalski takes a sledgehammer to the carefully ordered surfaces and dramatic conventions of narrative cinema, favoring instead an unpredictability in which the crosscurrents of quotidian life collide on the screen in a series of brilliantly alive patterns. This isn’t improvisation, but rather an adroitly achieved randomness — the perfect syntax for a generation-defining work about a generation marked by its very lack of definition.


FUNNY HA HA | Written and directed by ANDREW BUJALSKI | Produced by ETHAN VOGT | Released by Goodbye Cruel Releasing | At One Colorado Cinemas and Sunset 5.

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Reach the writer at sfoundas@villagevoice.com

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