Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 20 March 2009
Source 35mm print
Funny Ha Ha
Categories The 2009 South by Southwest Film Festival
Andrew Bujalski’s Beeswax opens in the same casual manner as his other films, introducing each character spontaneously as if you’ve dropped by their home or place of employment on a weekday afternoon. At first, it seems totally routine—there’s a pathological ordinariness to his work that I find curiously engaging. The film centers on Jeannie, the owner of a thrift store in Austin, her twin sister, and her friends. There is romance, business administration, and even a potential court case; the film isn’t essentially about any of these things, but rather the mundanities and nuances that comprise the bulk of your life.
Bujalski is a part of a clique of independent filmmakers which include Joe Swanberg (Alexander the Last), the Duplass brothers (Baghead), and others, each of whose films are distinct for their improvisation, matter-of-fact plotting, and extraordinary looseness. They may contain characters without any semblance of motivation, or scenarios that are resolutely inconsequential, but they remain comfortable, often pacifistic viewing experiences.
In Beeswax, this comfort engenders a hope for Jeannie’s small business to sustain as she faces a potential lawsuit from the co-owner. She has neither the patience nor capacity to really deal with this issue in her life right now, and as you watch her consider a friend’s law advice you’re compelled to share her frustration as a means of ballasting her hardship, as if she were one of your everyday friends. This engagement is what I like most in Bujalksi’s films. He treats his characters – most of which are young, but those in Beeswax seem more practical and less idealistic than his others – respectfully, so much so that the filmmaking is cohesively in service to truly naturalistic characterization. For example, Jeannie is in a wheelchair, and her particular routine is responsibly built in to the film. The resultant details render her other hardships all the more unnecessary: getting in and out of a car, changing clothes, essential piggy-back rides. You get the impression that the film in whole is as driven by Tilly Hatcher’s performance as it is by Bujalski’s conception of a modest story about a business owner who happens to be in a wheelchair.
The most noteworthy thing about Bujalski’s filmmaking is how he conceives scenarios that are to be ordinary by design. They are filled with detail and nuance, and if nothing else feel like totally realized authentic experiences—this is remarkable in a medium that is by its very nature an art of deception.
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