Mutual Appreciation (Bujalski, 2005)

Like his debut feature Funny Ha Ha, Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation chugs along at a lackadaisical pace, his characters and their lives playing out almost in slow motion. These young and hip New Yorkers depend on long winded dialogue to communicate, but ironically share a dysfunction when it comes to clearly expressing themselves. Bujalski’s stories are at once loose and frustrating, sloppy and methodical. It’s hard to peg down his characters, probably because they’re still discovering who they really are. Mutual Appreciation tells the story of a young rock and roller named Alan (Justin Rice) and his experiences starting anew in NYC. Lawrence (Bujalksi), Alan’s old friend from school, has a girlfriend named Ellie (Rachel Clift) whose angst is much more contained within her own fears of commitment. Between the three of them, a strange love triangle emerges, based on this shared uncertainty more than any romantic feelings. Mutual Appreciation is a step up from Ha Ha, mainly because Bujalski’s protagonists are dealing with grave post graduate situations (some that I can personally relate to at this moment) and their uncertainty is masked by beer, drugs, the aforementioned dialogue, and sex. Their inability to relate to one another comes at the most inopportune times, situations defined by both a need for connection but also a tendency to confuse the issue at hand. In both his films, Bujalski’s avoidance of any sort of narrative push has bothered me greatly, but his direction focuses on nuances in human nature instead of the typical character arc. The insecurities shared between his protagonists can also be seen in his black and white images and absence of non-diagetic music, film components which revel in low budget obscurity. Mutual Appreciation marks a distinct vision of modern day disconnect, but it’s a film consumed by the less is more philosophy of indie film. For Bujalski, it’s cooler to be confused than confident.

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