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A marvelous new film from Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation), one of the brightest stars in indie film, Beeswax revolves around the personal and professional entanglements of twin sisters Jeannie and Lauren - played by extraordinary newcomers Tilly and Maggie Hatcher - living in Austin, Texas. Jeannie co-owns a vintage clothing store with Amanda, a semi-estranged friend who she fears is trying to end their partnership. Lauren leads a looser, less tethered existence and is considering getting out of the country altogether. When Jeannie receives an email from Amanda threatening a lawsuit, she calls her law student ex-boyfriend Merrill for help. Eager for distraction from his own problems, he begins helping the sisters with theirs. Imbued with an innate charm, Beeswax is a story about family, friends and lovers and those awkward moments that bring all of them together.
- Alternate Soundtrack: A Musical Experiment by D.J. Taitelbaum
- "A Tribute to Extras" featurette
- Official Theatrical Trailer
- "Yes /No" Non-Theatrical Trailer
- Liner Notes by Kevin Corrigan
- Collectible Filmstrip from 16mm print
"Engagingly entertaining. Perhaps no film this year captured the developing new spirit of independent film better than writer-director Andrew Bujalski's Beeswax. --Mark Olsen, LA Times
"Funny and acutely observed." --Scott Tobias, The Onion
"A loose, low-key, unaccountably fascinating movie." --J. Hoberman, Village Voice
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I think it's unfortunate that the film hasn't found a wider audience, and part of the problem may be that Bujalski's films are often associated with the do-it-yourself slacker genre sometimes designated "mumblecore." While there are certainly affinities between Bujalski's films and those of the Duplass Brothers or of Joe Swanberg or Aaron Katz, it's a bit too easy and inaccurate to lump all of their films together as chatty films about less than fully articulate 20-somethings, to whom nothing much momentous happens. If there is anything that the various works labeled "mumblecore" have in common, it strikes me as less interesting than where they differ, but in the case of this film in particular, the expectations generated by that designation are wildly off the mark. Beeswax is closer in spirit and genre to films by Eric Rohmer or by David Gordon Green (especially All the Real Girls) or by Noah Baumbach, such as Kicking & Screaming and Margot at the Wedding (but on a slightly smaller scale and with non-actors rather than stars underplaying their fame). I'd be tempted to try and promote the film as one of the most honest and valuable portrayals of a person with a disability, since this is, above all, a film about Jeannie - but that rings false because what is special about that aspect of the film is that it is never made an issue, and Jeannie is not treated by any of the characters as "disabled." What adds to the interest is that Jeannie is a twin and her wheelchair appears as just one, and probably not the most significant, of many features that differentiates her from her sister. Jeannie's wheelchair is very much there, and the film makes very clear ways in which it affects her life, both in the public sphere and in private moments of intimacy, but no one needs to bring it up or discuss it - it is a part of who she is and is on display and so doesn't need to be explained or discussed. Beeswax may be unique -- at the very least it is rare and certainly to be appreciated -- as a film centered on a character in a wheelchair that is not really at all about her being in a wheelchair.
Beeswax is a beautiful looking film, with a clarity and warmth that seemed to be deliberately avoided in the more scruffy-looking Funny Ha Ha (also in color) and Mutual Appreciation (in black and white, appropriate to its deadpan comedy style). The opening and closing titles are set against a backdrop of a colorful pastel paper montage, and the many colors give an indication of the rich and varied palette from which the film draws. The colors of the film are warm and vibrant, evoking the almost expressionistic feel of, say, early Technicolor films, but at the same time feeling very much real and alive: both colors of the actual world and of the emotional life of the twin sisters. Unlike many of his counterparts in the arena of independent film making, Bujalski continues to shoot on film, rather than video -- and there is a big payoff in the look of his films -- in this case on super-16 for a wider screen than in his previous films, that was blown up to 35mm for its theatrical screenings. (One bonus feature that comes with the dvd, at least for now in its first printing, is a genuine piece of the original super-16 footage!)
In all of his three films so far, Andrew Bujalski organized the script around one or two actual people, who'd had little to no actual experience as actors but are able in his stories to impart a real underpinning in the authenticity of their mannerisms and voice. What is remarkable is the way in which none of the characters come across as acting, but it doesn't feel like improvisation either. Bujalski has a delicate ear for the rhythms of real speech, and manages to deliver highly structured works in which the structure is not apparent but becomes clear only on a second or third viewing. His work has been compared with the early films of Cassavettes, and I think there is some justice in the comparison, but it is not entirely accurate insofar as the honesty of the performances comes across not in the raw and unfiltered expressions of feeling but in the ways in which feelings go unexpressed and are betrayed in other, more subtle ways. If, in Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation, the characters tended to be working towards a certain kind of clarity about themselves that only gradually coalesced, the emphasis here is on ways in which characters tend to be deliberately reticent, hesitant to commit themselves where there is uncertainty about reciprocation but also a much greater degree of clarity about what is at stake. Highly recommended.
While I was viewing, the lack of plot and forward motion seemed frustrating. But looking back I found all the little honest moments of human weirdness that Bujalski captured with his (apparently) semi-improvised style gave me more of a real look into the lives of these late 20 somethings than I would have gotten from a more plot driven narrative.
And there IS a plot – about careers, about commitments, and about friendship. The tension over whether two friends who co-own a shop are actually going to sue each other over how the store is run is palpable, if not heart pounding. It's just the focus is more on details than on the big picture -- which is actually a lovely change from most films out there.
Kudos too for having a lead character in a wheelchair and a) not making that the most important thing about her, and b) allowing her to be sexy, sexual, funny, angry, grumpy – all the things people with challenged lives rarely are in movies.