Issue 50, Spring 2005
Funny Ha Ha
By Dave Swietkowski
Names like Cassavetes and Linklater are bound to pop-up in any discussion of Andrew Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha, and the comparisons are valid. Like Linklater’s seminal Slacker, Bujalski chronicles the musings of a haphazard group of twenty-somethings set adrift in a post-graduate world. And, like Cassavetes, Bujalski is more interested in nuance and emotional flux than narrative progression. Bujalski himself has acknowledged these influences, but is he merely regurgitating the well-established aesthetic vocabulary of American independent film? Well, not exactly, but the similarities are evident. Does Bujalski push contemporary American independent film in new and ground-breaking directions? Maybe not. But let’s put all that aside for now, and take Funny Ha Ha for what it is: a great film that addresses thoughts, feelings and emotions that mainstream films too often neglect.
Funny Ha Ha follows waifish Marnie (Kate Dollenmayer), a twenty-four year old college grad bouncing between temp jobs, and trying to sort out her romantic life. She pines for Alex (Christian Rudder), the object of her affection that’s constantly sending her mixed signals. At first, this synopsis may sound cliché, but this is the very basic “plot” of the film. The way Bujalski unravels the action, however, it’s refreshingly void of any contrivances and pretensions. Sure, there have been countless “Gen-X” films that touch on these same issues, but Funny Ha Ha avoids the cynicism and cool detachment these films fall victim to. This is one of the only films in recent memory that truthfully captures the arbitrariness and ambivalence of being young and out of college, in all of its naïve, drunken glory.
Above all, it’s the humor that makes Funny Ha Ha so engaging. It’s not always necessarily “funny haha,” but instead “funny deadpan” or “funny tounge-in-cheek.” There are no overt punch-lines in the film, just subtle and awkward comments and gestures that are sometimes even easy to miss. Kate Dollenmayer’s performance as Marnie is an exercise in subtlety, both comedic and dramatic. Marnie is the emotional anchor of this film that fluctuates so rapidly between emotional states, pulling off comedy and tragedy with equal finesse.
Andrew Bujalski establishes himself as an honest and important voice on the independent film scene with the bittersweet Funny Ha Ha. He doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but perhaps he never intended to in the first place. Let’s just be content with a film that, at the very least, minimizes the bullshit and focuses on topics that actually hold a degree of truth in our very own drunken, twenty-something existences.
Funny Ha Ha opened at Coolidge Corner April 29. Go see it. funnyhahafilm.com
Other articles by Dave Swietkowski.
Re: Funny Ha Ha|
Posted by olga turkova olindaturkova (nospam) yahooo.com at -0-3--2006
This was the worst movie I have ever seen. What are you talking about?