2022, NR, 93 min. Directed by Andrew Bujalski. Starring Jon Natchez, Lennie James, Lili Taylor, Annie LaGanga, Molly Gordon, Jason Schwartzman, Avi Nash, Roy Nathanson.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Nov. 25, 2022
Filmmaking during the pandemic, or more specifically, the lockdown during the pandemic, introduced a fair amount of logistical restrictions. The quarantine made traditional production all but impossible, so new modes emerged. Call it accidental Dogme 95. Actors framed in a laptop video chat amid domestic spaces of natural light, often alone (or with cats), broken up by some frenetic cellphone tracking shots and varying degrees of audio quality, performing with other actors, also alone (or with dogs). And while There There, the latest from Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess, Results) – a filmmaker whose name will forever be associated with “Austin resident,” but also with mumblecore – was shot during the height of the lockdown, a large part of its charm is due to the way the film slyly subverts those conditions.
Take the opening vignette, for instance (for this is a film of vignettes, another distinguishing pandemic trait): A couple, played by Lennie James and Lili Taylor, engages in some morning pillow talk after hooking up the night before. Never sharing the frame, or the same wall color, is the giveaway, but Bujalski has removed the laptop, has excised that technology almost entirely from the film. It’s a clever conceit, one that keeps the film nimble when some of the episodes wander off, thematically speaking. After the couple parts ways on a downbeat, Taylor meets up with her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor (LaGanga) at a coffee shop. LaGanga then takes a tense meeting with her son’s beleaguered school teacher (Gordon), and then the baton is passed to Jason Schwartzman, a lawyer in the midst of ethical soul-searching, before the relay returns to James, now working in the restaurant he owns. Bujalski’s characters never explicitly mention the pandemic, only making oblique references to a changed world, but everyone is dealing with conflict, weariness, anger, and uncertainty. There There skews its world ever so slightly, arriving at some nicely off-kilter insights amid its non sequiturs, but for all its neat tricks, function is definitely following form here.
Read our interview with director Andrew Bujalski about how the pandemic made him create a new type of movie magic in this week's issue.