Marnie drifts through life in search of romance and employment. The film paints a deft portrait of recent college graduates. The film's apparent scruffiness is a bit deceptive, as the film has both a subtle, delicate shape and a point.
"Funny Ha Ha" New York Times review, by A.O. Scott:
Marnie (Kate Dollenmayer) is 23, and she drifts through "Funny Ha Ha," Andrew Bujalski's low-budget first feature, in search of love and employment - with pretty disappointing results. The young men she is drawn to don't reciprocate, and she can't quite bring herself to respond to the one guy who seems to be genuinely smitten with her. After temping for a while, she finds a job doing research for a professor, which seems reasonably tolerable.
What gives this film its quiet pathos is not so much the relative bleakness of Marnie's circumstances but the modesty of her expectations. At one point, she makes a to-do list, and its lack of ambition - "spend more time outdoors," "make friends with Jackie," "learn to play chess" - is both funny and sad.
Marnie would never admit to anything more acute than mild depression, and Mr. Bujalski captures the ache of her existence without pity or melodrama. She is lonely, but far from alone, because "Funny Ha Ha," much as it is the story of a few difficult, uneventful months in her life, is also a deft group portrait of recent college graduates - her friends, co-workers and would-be lovers - groping their way across the flatlands of early adulthood.
Their conversational tics sound at once stylized and improvised, and the movie's narrative rhythms are loose and ambling. It feels as artless and scattered as Marnie and her cohort, who wear old T-shirts with holes in them and decorate their apartments with nondescript furniture, some of it probably hauled in from the sidewalk. But this scruffiness is a bit deceptive, as "Funny Ha Ha" has both a subtle, delicate shape and a point.
Like John Cassavetes, whose influence is apparent here, Mr. Bujalski is an acute and intelligent dramatist who uses the appearance of chaos as a means of emotional exploration. I would bet that the ragged, swerving scenes in his film are much more tightly scripted and carefully rehearsed than they sometimes seem, which was almost always the case with Cassavetes. The main difference is that while Cassavetes's characters are often at the mercy of their feelings and pushed to the point of eruption, Mr. Bujalski's are cut off from theirs, and able to communicate only by painful, semi-ironic indirection.
If it were not so resolutely modest, and so rigorously confined in its minute observations of individual behavior, you might almost call "Funny Ha Ha," which was completed in 2002, a generational statement. But that would be false to both the film's aesthetic and to its insights. Mr. Bujalski's characters do not make statements; they barely make eye contact with one another, and they communicate in a hesitant, noncommittal idiom, prefacing every utterance with phrases like "I don't know" and "I'm sorry." They spend their days working in grungy offices and their evenings drinking beer and eating hummus at impromptu parties.
The anomie of middle-class 20-somethings is hardly an unexplored subject in American movies, and "Funny Ha Ha" might at first glance be taken as yet another example of post-"Slacker" indie solipsism. But Mr. Bujalski's artistic self-confidence and the low-key idiosyncrasy of his cast resist such easy labeling.
This movie feels less like a careerist calling card than like a genuine effort to use film - and it is film, rather than the more modish digital video - to probe and reveal the curious facts and stubborn puzzles of contemporary life. It is a small, plain movie, shot in 16 millimeter in dull locations around Boston; but also, like its passive, quizzical heroine, it is unexpectedly seductive, and even, in its own stubborn, hesitant way, beautiful.
This is the real thing. A genuine indie-flick without the pretentiousness or quirkiness or "big-issue" feel that has pigeonholed the "Sundance" style film. This is just a remarkably fresh and engaging story about a young woman figuring herself out; a film that plays with the ambiguities that comes from an age/culture that doesn't want to judge anybody or anything but where individuals can still be hurt by the actions of others. The dialogue is as perfect and genuine and real and awkward as anything I've seen on film (or in life, in people of this age). I knew people like the characters here in college and grad school, and the story kept me involved and caring about them. I agree with other reviewers that this film is easily as important and interesting as other major indie debuts like Stranger than Paradise, Slackers, Clerks, and Sex Lies and Videotape. Here's hoping that as Andrew Bujalski (and his stellar cast) finds the much-deserved acclaim from this film he doesn't lose the honesty and edge of this simple, low budget masterpiece.
As any Publishers Clearing House winner can attest: Dreams do come true! I've been hoping for two years that people who don't write about movies or stalk them at film festivals would get to experience the wonderful vagaries of Andrew Bujalski's ''Funny Ha Ha," which, after languishing who knows where, finally opens today at the Coolidge, while his second film just played at last week's Independent Film Festival of Boston.
It's both obvious and inexplicable why the release of ''Funny Ha Ha" went nowhere for so long. Obvious: The film lacks polish. Inexplicable: That's part of its charm. (Bujalski has a bracingly unadorned style, and Matthias Grunsky's handheld photography is actually quite lovely.) Obvious: The cast is full of amateurs, especially Kate Dollenmayer, the woman playing Marnie, the film's heroine. Inexplicable: She is also one of the most simply complicated movie characters I've ever seen.
Marnie is 23, lives in the post-college, crypto-slacker ghettos of Allston, and is unmoored, unambitious, and freshly fired from a mediocre office job. She prefers to wear T-shirts and is a sweetly impulsive drunk. Her to-do list consists of such goals as ''become a better cook," ''go to museums," and, my favorite, ''spend more time outside." And the Scarlett Johansson of ''Lost in Translation" and Anna Karina in the Jean-Luc Godard movie of your choice are her kindred spirits.
But, honestly, Marnie isn't that fancy. Dollenmayer acts with refreshing understatement, and there's eloquence in her gracelessness. You've borrowed this girl's literature notes back in college, you've tried to pick her up once at a party, you've seen her staring into space alone on her front stoop. She's like a lot of upbeat people with no immediate plans for the future and nothing glamorous in mind, and nearly everything about her life is a misalliance, particularly where romance is concerned.
One of the beauties of Bujalski's writing and directing is the way little slights resonate with Marnie. She has to hear from Rachel and Dave (Jennifer L. Schaper and Myles Paige) that Alex (Christian Rudder), her longstanding crush, has just broken up with his girlfriend. That's ridiculous: She just ran into him, and he didn't mention that at all. But, as ''Funny Ha Ha" illustrates with great accuracy, that's life.
Alex's sister, Susan (Lissa Patton Rudder), tells Marnie she should pursue Alex, who, in a humiliating and awkward moment, calls Marnie to say, politely, back off. But Alex is a burgeoning master of the mixed signal, saying they should talk some more about this, and also telling her about a job doing research for his uncle. Meanwhile, Marnie lets Mitchell (Bujalski), a painfully meek yet surprisingly direct co-worker at a temp gig she takes, think she has a boyfriend. She has no real interest in Mitchell but out of guilt -- or boredom -- keeps him around, anyway.
Bujalski's circle of characters and the social and romantic entanglements among them start to resemble the webs in Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, if either woman wrote for the post-collegiate Trader Joe's set. Marnie's life is less resolved than in Austen and far less tragic than in Wharton. (Whit Stillman's more poised and more self-conscious ''Metropolitan" comes to mind, too.)
Where class determined attraction in those books, good timing and personal taste dictate the pairings in ''Funny Ha Ha." So Alex's vagueness and passive-aggressive tactics make him a thoroughly modern love interest. And all the hypo-masculine, almost fey affect of this movie's males locates them on a small planet of halting and insecure man-boy stars such as Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal. Half the appeal of pursuing such a man lies in waiting to see whether he'll ever declare himself.
''Funny Ha Ha" is a smartly observed, unpretentious, and unconventional comedy of manners -- or more properly, it's a comedy of mannerisms, for none of its addled characters seems capable of composing a thought without stopping along the way to consider it. During that phone call to Marnie, Alex says: ''I don't know. It's just. I mean. You know what I'm saying? It's just . . . a bad time for me."
I imagined my mother listening to all the inserted ''likes" and ''you knows" used here and asking with exasperation, ''Will they ever finish a thought?" But these characters' inarticulateness is perfect for their inchoate feelings. Bujalski's is one of the first movies to put such sensitive and true characters on screen in all their imperfections. He deserves a good, long career, something that returns us to what took so long for it to get started -- the craven distributors and exhibitors of the world. To them, there's this to say: To ignore him is to ignore the stammering voice of a generation.
I had to see some mumblecore titles for a class. I thought this could be the worst movie ever made, until I saw Hannah Takes the Stairs. This is the 2nd worst movie ever made. No story, no plot, uninteresting characters. You'll honestly get more enjoyment listening to your dishwasher run for the length of this movie.