Friday, March 22, 2013


If you enjoy the films of John Cassavetes and say the words; "like" & "dude" an excessive amount of times then there's a good chance you'll love The Duplass Brother's feature film debut; The Puffy Chair - a part road movie comedy, part relationship drama that takes us from Brooklyn to Atlanta. Ever since the start of that mumblecore scene (courtesy of Funny HA HA) critics, cinephiles & film festivals like SXSW & Sundance have given praise to Puffy Chair-influenced works like; LOL, Dance Party USA, Hannah Takes The Stairs and other pointless films about broke Brooklyn & Portland hipsters wandering around aimlessly wearing ironic t-shirts they found in thrift stores while listening to hip indie pop music, saying “like” in between every other fucking word that comes outta their quirky little mouths and I honestly never got what all the fuss was about. And this isn’t some misguided rant towards hipsters or the kinds of brooklynites that live off the L & G train lines. These films, that show a lifestyle I have no interest in seeing on the big screen, just aren't any good. They’re quirky for the sake of being quirky and get mislabeled as "real" or cinema verite when it’s just lazy half writing & sloppy improvising. I guess I kinda respect the filmmakers of the mumblecore movie scene for picking up some cameras and just making movies without concerning themselves with all the roadblocks that would cause a person to not wanna make a movie in the first place but I don't wanna listen to dialogue along the lines of; "um, well yeah, ya know" or "like uh, like, I dunno" for 90 minutes (seriously, you think I'm exaggerating to make a point but listen to the dialogue in a film like Quiet City and tell me I'm lying). And what's more frustrating is that these films somehow manage to get mentioned in the same breath as legitimate filmmakers like Spike Lee, Terrence Malick, Jim Jarmusch, Mike Leigh & John Cassavetes.

My biggest gripe with the Mumblecore genre, which I've never really expressed in my writings until now, is that it’s more commonly associated with my generation (Y) instead of the films that really should be like; Rushmore, Welcome To The Dollhouse, Ghost World, Half Nelson, Elephant and other films that paint a better, somewhat deeper and slightly more complex picture of people born in the early 80's.
But The Puffy Chair is one of the FEW mumblecore films worthy of praise & comparison to a legendary filmmaker like Cassavetes. I have no problem with The Puffy Chair being a defining Generation Y movie. It’s more than evident that Mark & Jay Duplass spent some time studying Cassavetes' work. The abrupt opening scene of the The Puffy Chair where our two main characters (Josh & Emily) go from having a sweat boyfriend/girlfriend moment to one of them storming out of the apartment is almost like a reworking of the scene in Cassavetes' Faces when John Marley & Lynne Carlin are sitting at the dinner table laughing hysterically one minute then exploding at each other the next. The way the camera in The Puffy Chair momentarily goes in & out of focus or zooms in on something way too close is reminiscent of the camerawork in Cassavetes' Shadows or The Killing Of Chinese Bookie.
Faces (1968)
It was Ray Carney’s praise of The Puffy Chair that sparked my interest. Not to say that because a film critic like Ray Carney likes something means that I should too but he’s a notorious snob and picky about what he likes. What would a snob who spends his time over-analyzing the works of John Cassavetes, Mike Leigh & Carl Theodor Dryer be doing loving something like The Puffy Chair? To my surprise it turned out to be one of my favorite films of 2006. I actually hadn’t seen or even thought about this film in a couple of years but when it came up in conversation a few weeks ago I was immediately reminded of how much I love it. I don’t normally like to quote other critics but Ray Carney hit the nail on the head when he wrote about this film:

The Puffy Chair gives us the real McCoy, the real thing, the way life and love and romance really, truly are. 

If you walked in on the middle of a scene in The Puffy Chair you might think you were watching a documentary along the lines of A Married Couple (ESPECIALLY during the arguments & blow-ups). I know its beyond cliche to talk about how "real" an indie film is but there's a genuine realness to The Puffy Chair that we don't see in many films today. The two main actors in the film (Mark Duplass & Katie Aselton) are married in real life and I imagine some of the heartache, joy, growth, pain & love from their real life relationship seeped in to the film. This goes back to that Cassavetes influence I spoke about earlier. All of his personal work had a serious documentary-like feel. It’s almost as if Duplass & Aselton weren’t even acting. Certain moments in The Puffy Chair felt like b-role footage that we weren’t supposed to see of a real life couple arguing off camera.

The Cinema of John Cassavetes isn't the only appropriate comparison to The Puffy Chair. In 2005 Sideways was its most commonly associated with and/or compared to film. I guess that’s somewhat understandable as both movies are partially comedic, partially dramatic, indie road movies but there’s a clear generational difference between the characters, dialogue & scenarios in both films. For people my age or younger who don’t identify with the wine tasting, vineyard visiting, divorced, mid-life crisis aspects of Sideways, The Puffy Chair is the perfect answer for you.

Although it’s technically a comedy, The Puffy Chair falls right in line with other stuff like All The Real Girls, Flannel Pajamas, Blue Valentine and other examples of modern cinema verite about young-ish love where a relationship is put to the ultimate test. These are the kinds of films where we wonder if the couples we've been watching for the last 100 minutes are going to last. The Puffy Chair is not without a few seriously touching moments (Josh's speech at Rhett's "wedding") explosive arguments and important moments between fathers & sons. I'm always a sucker for a good road trip movie (Alice In the Cities, Roadside Prophets, I Travel Because I Have To, The Brown Bunny, etc) and The Puffy Chair delivers. Along their roadtrip Josh & Emily pick up Josh's brother (Rhett) who joins them for the rest of the trip, get sidetracked along the way for various reasons, and they also come to discover that the puffy chair Josh thought he was getting off eBay isn't quite what he expected.

This is the perfect introduction to the Duplass Brothers' filmography. The only problem is nothing else they've done comes close (in my opinion) so you may be a bit disappointed with their later work. The Duplass Brothers do grow as filmmakers with each movie (I don't wanna totally shit on their post-puffy chair work) but I almost wanna recommend that you watch The Puffy Chair last in order to appreciate it even more. I thought Baghead bordered on being pointless, Jeff Who Lives At Home has its moments and Cyrus, they're first film using actors outside of the mumblecore scene, was ok and surprisingly touching but still not as great as The Puffy Chair.


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