Ahhh, North By North-East, great to be enjoying you once again. Last year I didn’t go to any NXNE shows because I didn’t want to buy a pass and I was working at Second City most nights, but this year I’ve cleared my schedule, managed to grab a press pass, and am psyched to experience the awesomeness of the festival again.
The first event guest Gold Soundz writer Assunta Alegiani and I checked out after we grabbed our press passes last night was an independant film called Mutual Appreciation, which was being screened at the Toronto Underground Cinema as part of the festival. It’s a low-budget black and white movie with aspirations to be kind of like a modern day Cassavetes film if it were about three lazy young-ish people in New York – one a musician – who find themselves in a weird love-triangle.
Marc: Mutual Appreciation is an interesting film with a couple pretty funny parts, and some enjoyable music made by the film’s struggling musician protagonist Alan (lead singer of The Bumblebees, the band he would like to be fronting if he could find other musicians to play with, played by Justin Rice, actually of the band Bishop Allen), but ultimately the movie kind of fails because all three of its lead characters – Lawrence and Ellie, who’ve been in a relationship forever seemingly, and Alan, the young guy who moves to New York to start a career in music – are just really annoying.
Lawrence is working as a TA at a University and has no balls, is really lame, boring, constantly following the leads of others, never taking charge of his own life. Ellie, his girlfriend, has a little more chutzpa and seems to wear the pants in the relationship, but never confronts him about her doubts in their relationship, never seems to actually do anything about the fact that she is really unhappy and appears to find him kind of pathetic (“Lawrence is a straight-shooter,” Alan tells her. “No, he’s a ‘bull-shooter’,” she responds”). She starts hitting on Alan, whom she is friends with. At first, Alan is too ineffectual to actually do anything with her advances and kind of just nods along when she tells him she’s attracted to him, then the next day decides he does like her as well, by which time the moment has already passed and Ellie says, hesitantly, “We can’t do this.” Alan is like, “yeah.”
Wow. Exciting stuff.
There are some amusing scenes like when Alan stumbles into a party with only three girls in wigs who decide to dress him up like a girl and he – ineffectual as always – just goes along with it. But ultimately, the result of having a film with a bunch of airhead characters with barely any drive or chutzpa is a film that’s fatally flawed by the lack of a central gravity, most obviously a character who takes initiative and makes things happen. Instead we just have a bunch of dumb young people floating around aimlessly while we watch, seldom with amusement.
Assunta: I fully agree that the three main characters were agonizingly annoying. I liked Ellie at first, out of the three she’s the most forceful one, and so it is her who generally sets the tone/topic when they’re hanging out. But slowly this image of the fun, ballsy woman crumbles to expose a little girl who chooses comfort over happiness. The two scenes in which her and Alan admit their “mutual appreciation” were killing me. Toying with the idea of cheating on her boyfriend and Alan’s best friend, Ellie pushes forward and then holds back over and over and over again. Seriously, how much can you elaborate on wanting to kiss the person across from you without ANYTHING happening?
And that brings me to Alan. Ugh. He is shaggy. He is endearing. He is basically a teddy bear, or at least certainly as (in)active as one. Or, as I told Marc last night, he’s like a jellyfish, pulled by whatever current is the strongest. Point is, Alan is waiting: for a job to come, for a girl to make everything right, for a new band to finally break through with, for a bunch of drunken girls to put him in a dress and smudge make-up on his face, etc. I was just waiting for someone to slap him so he’d finally wake up. Too bad Lawrence didn’t have the balls to.
Now, with all that said, I think the film intends to be annoying. Clearly it’s not a character driven film – if anything, it’s an anti-character-driven film. The lack of plot and/or cool people leaves atmosphere to subtly carry all the hints of how lost and unhappy these people are. The way it’s shot and edited strongly supports this, with barely any camera movement; most shots are full or medium ones, and the takes are loooong. It’s like there’s a deliberate lack of direction for the viewer (we’re Alan!), and it feels like you’re sitting there with the characters, unable to escape their lethargic dynamics. This heightens the brooding awkwardness by times a million. Had I watched this at home on TV, I would have had to change the channel a number of times, that’s how unbearably awkward it got.
I liked Mutual Appreciation for the unusual approach it took to telling a worn out story of girl-falls-for-her-boyfriend’s-best-friend. And it was shot in black-and-white, which is cool because – despite the characters’ frequent use of cell phones – it gave the film a timeless feel.