As much as I love movies, my ultimate fantasy would be to be a rocker. I don’t want to be John Lennon or Leonard Cohen, I just want to be my dad, who was in a band and played gigs in bars when he was young. I mean, I’m always in music venues anyway; I might as well be the one on stage, right? (not to mention the whole “almost famous” thing – don’t ask) Unfortunately, I couldn’t play guitar if I tried (and I did), so I’m doomed to remain the guy in the back nursing a beer and watching others do the rocking.
Which brings us to “Mutual Appreciation”. One thing that cinema has over music, as far as I’m concerned at least, is that you’re not just a spectator. A good film can make you lose yourself in it, living things through the characters that you wouldn’t otherwise. Imagine my pleasure going into this story of musician Alan (Justin Rice), who’s not Lennon or Cohen or anything, but who’s fairly well known in the indie rock scene. You know, the kind of dude who gets written about on Stereogum and gets interviewed on college radio, but who’s still kinda broke, unemployed, couch-surfing from one friend’s place to another… He’s that guy! If you only read or hear about him, you get this idea that he’s this kick-ass rock star, but if he’s a buddy of yours it’s like, yeah, Alan. And?
This is kind of a hard review to write. Quality is almost out of the question here. This film so specifically targets a particular microcosm that, depending on your preconception of said microcosm, your mileage may vary. I, for one, am quite familiar and fond of that whole indie rock kinda world (it’s set in New York, but it might as well be Montreal), so I got lots of laughs and kicks out of it. But I’m aware that some might dismiss this as self-indulgent scenester shit. I don’t know, here’s an early, random bit of dialogue that can serve as a litmus test:
“It’s really so, sort of, like excessively simple that a lot of the time, people that are like real musicians, musician types, um, get pretty bored with it, I think. They just wanna embellish a lot and honestly, I can’t… I think it needs to be simple, I mean, it’s like… The emphasis is not on, super-cool drumming.”
If that’s as endlessly insightful and hilarious to you as it is to me, this is the movie for you. But if it just annoys you… Heh, wait until my next four-star review.
Now, don’t think this is nothing but a hipster masterpiece. Writer-director-editor Andrew Bujalski is truly the real deal. That is, unless it turns out that his cast has been improvising all these great scenes but, assuming the movie on screen is the one he wrote, whoa. I’ve rarely seen films this naturalistic. Maybe “Clerks”… Even then, I’m mostly flashing back to it because both pictures are no-budget B&W American flicks. Kevin Smith is a brilliant writer but until recently, he showed little talent behind the camera, whereas Bujalski is obviously a natural born filmmaker, capturing casually perfect yet visually accomplished moments that add up and build unto an unexpectedly powerful whole. For one, he shoots the central musical number as effectively as anything in A Hard Day’s Night.
Speaking of hard days’ nights, this is what most of “Mutual Appreciation” is, those great day/nights that just go on and on, where you got this show, then you go to this guy’s house, then you end up at some party where you barely know anybody… Or when a late evening with a girl you like stretches on, and she’s got a boyfriend, but there’s this tension between you two… The whole film is about these very particular yet universal situations where it’s what’s left unsaid that really makes the difference. Again, let’s not undermine the great worth of the performances, be it Rice in the lead, Rachel Clift as the Girl or Bujalski himself as the boyfriend (who’s not even a bad guy or anything). It’s mostly about hanging out with them for a while. Is it the end of something? The beginning? It’s not really clear, but that’s life for you.
“Mutual Appreciation” will be part of the 2006 Film Pop Montreal festival, which runs October 4th-8th. Don’t miss it!