LOL (Director: Joe Swanberg, 2006): With the backlash against the so-called “mumblecore” movement already starting, I thought I’d better review this film now. I’ll admit that this is only the second film I’ve seen that falls within the bounds of the loose grouping of actors and directors that go by that moniker. The first was The Puffy Chair (review), by the Duplass brothers, which was pretty good. Not great, but good. LOL evoked the same reaction from me. Director Joe Swanberg writes and stars with his friends Kevin Bewersdorf (who also composed the music) and C. Mason Wells as three college-age guys who are so caught up in their communication “technology” that they don’t do much actual communicating, especially with the women in their lives. As a confirmed gadget lover (but, strangely, cell-phone hater), I found a lot of humour in the film, and I could relate just a bit to some of the characters’ bad behaviour. Alex (Bewersdorf) becomes so obsessed with a woman he’s seen naked online that he totally misses a chance for a relationship with a real woman (the wonderfully dorky Tipper Watson). Chris’ separation from his girlfriend for the summer leads him to try to connect with her through technology, but only on his terms. And Tim (Swanberg) can’t seem to tear himself away from his laptop or his cellphone long enough to have an actual conversation, especially with his sorely neglected girlfriend Ada (Brigid Reagan). This cast reminded me a bit of Whit Stillman’s ensemble in Metropolitan (1990), one of my favourite indie films. But the writing isn’t nearly as good, nor are the performances. Still, the situations are realistic enough, and the characters are flawed but likeable. When you realize just how young Swanberg and his pals really are (he’s 26), and how prodigious his output has been (he’s averaged a feature film a year since 2005’s Kissing On The Mouth, plus directed a series of webcasts for Nerve.com), you have to be at least a little bit impressed.
“Mumblecore” seems to have been as much a creation of the indie film press as any sort of self-conscious “school” of filmmaking. Swanberg just seems to be canny enough to use his friends as collaborators as often as possible. Unfortunately, that has its limitations. Now that he’s established that he can write and direct, I’d like to see him try working with some professional actors. Watching LOL seemed just a bit too much like watching his home movies. If the backlash has truly begun, that might be just the catalyst that Swanberg and his friends need to make some wider connections. I’m looking forward to seeing where the mumblecore gang go next.
P.S. For the record, I found Amy Taubin’s article in Film Comment (the “backlash” article linked above) to be incredibly mean-spirited toward Joe Swanberg. It will be interesting to see the fallout from what looks to be a personal attack.