Here’s a simple story about Josh (Mark Duplass), his needy girlfriend (Kathryn Aselton), Josh’s hippie-dip brother (Rhett Wilkins) and their cross-country journey to take collection of an overstuffed couch-potato chair they just bought on ebay, and take it to the guys’ dad (played by Duplass’s dad, Larry Duplass).
Shot for $10,000 by first-timers, this is one of the handful of films first to be called “mumblecore” – Wikipedia tells me that the term was first applied at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2005 to a trio of films – this one, Joe Swanberg’s Kissing on the Mouth, and Mutual Appreciation by Andrew Bujalski (often called “the father of mumblecore”) But how many other mumblecore films earned their writer/directors a bungalow on the Universal lot, as The Puffy Chair has done?
The reasons for that are clear – in spite of its superficial commitment to a shoe-gazey, indie style of naturalism, this is a Hollywood movie, albeit one shot for buttons on a single handheld camera, a road movie in which most of the dialogue is improvised by Duplass and Aselton, who go into who knows what dark personal places (they’re affianced in real life) to paint a portrait of a relationship on the skids.
Why Hollywood wants the Duplasses is not because of their way with a tiny budget – that way madness lies – but their ability to deliver freshness, believability, a genuine emotional connection, and, more cynically, a new age demographic. The rank amateur looks of The Puffy Chair perfectly suit its theme – the general rubbishness of humans, particularly the male of the species, especially when it comes to the relationship thing.
Though it’s made by, and seems mostly to be about men, given its subject matter it’s quite likely that women might appreciate it more. Any boyfriends watching with them will most likely deny that they were finding any entertainment value in the fine features of Kathryn Aselton, a former Miss Maine Teen 1995.
© Steve Morrissey 2005