Loud booing greeted a screening of Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation at the Portland International Film Festival, on Wednesday night, February 15, and while I wasn’t leading the chorus, I had to (silently) join in. In truth, I’d hoped to dislike this movie, so that I could pen a hateful jeremiad against it, an urgently needed antidote to the fulsome ministrations of our cultural mafia’s current ruling elite (i.e. Foundas, Nathan Lee, Dennis Lim). Every frame of this odious film, as well as the onanistic effluvia spewed in praise for it, shrieks of the sort of “Our Cool Friends” insularity that attends the Nerd Aesthetic of its unwashed champions, an incestuous enclave of over-exposed backslappers.
“Bujalski is the poet laureate of post-grad bobos [sic] from Brooklyn to Portland,” chirps Lee from one of his many perches. But is this really true? Shall I just go ahead and quote Willamette Week’s Becky Ohlsen, who is clearly one of the more perceptive critics currently drawing a paycheck at an “alternative” paper. She writes: “I wanted to walk right into this movie, like Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose of Cairo—only with a machine gun…Then I’d kill every single character while laughing with glee. The most painful example of gutless, nutless indie-rock awkwardness I’ve ever seen…All three of [the main characters] are loathsome, inarticulate, self-absorbed, unoriginal, bumbling, insubstantial wastes of skin who can’t even make crippling neurosis mildly interesting.”
I agree with Ohlsen to a point. Her comments perfectly sum up the disgust engendered by Justin Rice, as the perennially grinning, alcoholic, guitar-diddling anti-hero who hangs on (and on and on) for that next free beer, no matter where or from whom it may materialize. Unfortunately, Mutual Appreciation isn’t entirely terrible, though the film is poor enough in its self-consciously solipsistic manner of calculated indulgence. There’s a decent performance by Seung-Min Lee as a radio DJ, an almost well-written scene wherein the movie’s badly coiffed heroine (Rachel Clift) speaks of the “futile crushes” that serve as mental escapes from her long-term engagement to a hideous dullard, and the movie tells the truth, visually, about the supreme cramped ugliness of New York apartments – there isn’t a square foot of Woody Allen real estate anywhere in sight.
Infinitely more boring is Jonathan Demme’s moribund concert film Heart of Gold, in which the same three chords are twanged over and over, without an intermission or any bits of backstage business to distract from the dullness center-stage. I walked in thinking that I liked Neil Young’s music; when the movie ended, I realized, yes, but only if Cassandra Wilson’s singing it. The endless close-ups of Mr. Young’s dentures do not help either. – NPT
February 16, 2006