'The Puffy Chair'
Squinting in North Carolina's noonish gray light, a guy in his late 20s stares down a guy twice his age. "Oh, I get it," the older guy offers. "I'm supposed to, uh, shit my pants because you're all kind of silent and mysterious and shit?" Josh Sagers, who has driven from New York, remains mute, and the older guy heads inside his warehouse, where an oversized purple La-Z-Boy that Josh bought from him over eBay a replica of his dad's chair that he remembers from his childhood, and a birthday gift that he plans to deliver to said dad in Atlanta still sits. The chair's condition is sorry-assed, especially when compared to the printout photo Josh has been clutching for the past 10 minutes. Customer satisfaction ratings plummet in the small town of Milbridge.
It's all very funny, one of many very funny scenes in The Puffy Chair, but it's a problem that Josh has to solve as "the Clark Griswold for this trip," which is what Mark Duplass, who plays Josh, calls him. "He's got his girlfriend and his little brother [the excellent Rhett Wilkins], but in some ways these are his kids, and he wants to be like a grownup and take care of everything. He's just not there yet, or maybe he's just not that kind of person." What kind of person Josh becomes namely amid his five-year relationship with Emily (portrayed by Kathryn Aselton, an absolute natural) is the central question at the huge, generous heart of the film. "At what point do you say, 'Yeah, I'm definitely sure I'm moving forward,' or at what point do you say, 'Maybe this is not right and I shouldn't move forward'? There's never gonna be a clear answer, and that can cause emotional and, sometimes, physical paralysis."
Mark Duplass is aware that he speaks from the perspective of a "privileged generation." His brother, Jay, with whom he wrote the script, elaborates: "We're lucky to have all these options," says The Puffy Chair's director. "But it's hard to make decisions when you're floating around in all this possibility."
Most of this could sound familiar for a couple of reasons. You might've talked about it with the brothers, as they're as much Austin filmmakers now despite their New York digs as they were when they emerged from UT's RTF program in the late Nineties. The credits of the Maine-shot The Puffy Chair prove it. "Literally, although we've been in New York for a couple of years, the whole movie was put together with talent and crew from Austin," Jay says. "And done with kind of the Austin ethic: Get your camera, get your friends, and make a movie." Otherwise, the confusion in the face of confusion comprehended and addressed via road trip might sound familiar because almost everyone's gone through it, while more than a few artists have approached it as a form. The filmmakers are fine with that.
"Our goal coming into this was less about how we make the most original feature film and more about how we make a feature film that works," Mark says. "Let's use everything to our advantage to make something that works. Our shorts are original. Our sensibilities are original. We knew that if we infused that with just the nature of who we are, the way we shoot our comic sensibilities are a little quirky that it would probably come out different enough to play."
The Puffy Chair screens at 7:15pm, Saturday, March 12, Alamo South Lamar; 4:30pm, Wednesday, March 16, Paramount; 9:30pm, Friday, March 18, Austin Convention Center.