19 August 2009


Written & Directed by: Andrew Bujalski
Full credits at IMDb

No one should deny that Andrew Bujalski does one thing really well: He crafts sensitive, masterfully performed films about contemporary youngsters and their inability to commit or communicate. The debate lies in whether such a narrow focus on such a slight concern has begun to wear thin—and so short into his career!—or whether it was ever thick enough to begin with.

Bujalski is the Apatow of the Underground; as directors, both have only three films under their belts, but each has spawned a movement so pervasive that it has nearly rendered their own films superfluous. Apatow gave us the modern Bromance; Bujalski has given us muhmuhmum…don’t make me say it! He sets his latest, Beeswax, in Austin, which invites (unfavorable) comparisons to Slacker, Richard Linklater’s one-generation-ago chronicle of directionless youths. The edge-of-thirty types here, both un- and mis-directed, may be a bit less vigorous in their opposition to work than their ‘90s forebears, but the most glaring difference between the two sets of Texans is in degrees of eloquence: slackers were hyperarticulate; Bujalski’s mutterers are decidedly not, which may be what separates them not only from their immediate predecessors but from all generations prior. It’s what makes them historically unique and thus, ostensibly, worthy of being the subject of a decade-long oeuvre.

Goddam, even the cellphones are broken in Beeswax: the characters literally (and figuratively) cannot fucking communicate with one another. (Bujalski’s symbols dance on that fine line between clever and too clever.) They’re characters who couch their definitives in qualifying maybe-sortas; they’re wishy-washy, too. Lauren (Maggie Hatcher) opens the film by suggesting to her boyfriend that they “try” breaking up; her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), is introduced taking a practice bar exam, agonizing between multiple choices. But it’s Lauren’s sister Jeannie (Tillie Hatcher; she and Maggie are twins) around whom the plot revolves. She runs a vintage boutique with a largely absent business partner, with whom her relationship is becoming increasingly antagonistic. Except, they never really confront one another; in actual conversation—like, over the phone—they just say, “we’ll talk later,” as in, never. They can only tell each other how they feel through mediated means: emails, legal contracts and subpoenas.

Beeswax, which jokingly has been called a legal thriller since it’s anything but, is a bit plottier than previous Bujalski features and more streamlined than, say, Mutual Appreciation (whose bloated running time felt self-indulgent), even though it still feels under-edited. I guess that’s the point of a Bujalski movie, though: to highlight the masterful-to-the-point-of-painful naturalism of his stammering non-professional performers—to show how our struggles with language inform our struggles with relationships, both romantic and platonic. Though I feel like, I get it already. If that’s all that he’s after, then at this point, what’s the point? Grade: B-

Watch the trailer:

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