“the best night of the summer, man!”

I know of few recent films that have proved as polarizing as Funny Ha Ha (2005), but somehow I’ve managed to find myself in a place suspended between what seems to be the typical “love it” or “loathe it” reactions. There is much to certainly admire in the film, chief among them the relentlessly realism-based dialogue peppered with the inevitable “yeahs” and “likes” and “umms” of everyday speech, as well as a striking lead performance by non-professional Kate Dollenmayer and a particularly mature presence behind the camera in writer/director Andrew Bujalski who seems confident enough in his vision to give the film space enough to meander into its own awkward rhythm that as the film progresses begins to feel surprisingly lyrical.

Depicting Marnie (Dollenmayer), a young woman who finds herself stuck in a period of particularly acute post-graduation malaise, the film has found a particularly devoted following in young people who assert that the film is a dead-on depiction of their own struggles with post-college ennui and insecurities. The thing is, as a recent college graduate myself lingering in a job that is simply allowing me to buy time before I return back to school, it began occurring to me how dissimilar my own experiences feel in compared to the characters in this own film. Namely, I was shocked when I realized how completely absent from the film is any sense of what is probably the defining element of my generation: technology. Indeed, there’s nary a glimpse of a TV or even a computer in Funny Ha Ha, let alone now-ubiquitous “essentials” like cell phones and iPods, to say nothing of the internet, pop culture or even current world events (curious, considering how soon the film was made after 9/11).

Not only do all of these things seem to possess no influence on the film’s characters, but they seem to have no presence in their living whatsoever. In that way, Funny Ha Ha comes off as a surprisingly antiquated film, or at least one not nearly as grounded in the realities of modern living as it seems at first glance. It seems many of my peers have had no problems in enthusiastically proclaiming Bujalski “the voice of our generation,” but like Jonathan Rosenbaum finally admits in his review of Regular Lovers (another film about young people coming to grips with the banalities of everyday living), I can recognize what it is that may give the impression that this film is capturing the essence of my particular generation at this particular moment in time, but when it comes down to it, as much as I like the film itself, I just don’t really recognize the portrait.

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3 thoughts on ““the best night of the summer, man!”

  1. well, there is something old-fashioned or at least contrarian about bujalski. i like that about him. it gives him a complicated mix of empathy and detachment that i find very interesting. i don’t think he’s trying to be “the voice of a generation.” that’s something that’s been imposed on him by critics. he uses film, shoots sometimes in black-and-white, his camera is mostly still. his style isn’t exactly trendy. it makes sense in that context that he would avoid the sort of cultural markers you mention.

  2. one more thought– if i had to describe bujalski’s work with a pithy phrase i’d call it a cinema of lounging and displacement. the movies, especially “mutual appreciation,” are full of people lying around in odd postures, in the wee hours of the night, wearing clothes that aren’t theirs, in apartments that aren’t theirs. there’s a sense of boredom and inactivity, of retreat from all ownership or responsibilty, which results from a paralyzing self-consciousness. cell phones, ipods, etc. create a sense of frenetic activity that covers up the essential passivity that bujalski wants to expose.

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