The Puffy Chair (2005) dir. Jay Duplass.
Starring; Mark Duplass, Kathryn Aselton, Rhett Wilkins
One of the new cine-buzzwords floating around the film world is ‘mumblecore’, a new form of American neo-realism. The movement which includes filmmakers Lynn Shelton, Andrew Bujalski, Joe Swanberg and the Duplass Brothers, began in the early 2000’s and is characterized by ultra low-budget production values with seemingly natural, almost improvised performances. One of the quintessential films of the movement is “The Puffy Chair”, a quiet little endearing gem of a film. The kind of intimate character film that reaffirms your faith in independent cinema.
Mark Duplass plays Josh, a 20-something failed musician and now struggling booking agent embarking on a cross-country road trip with his unabashedly romantic girlfriend Emily (Kathryn Aselton). His journey, to pick up a Ebay-purchased Lazy Boy chair and drive it to his father as a gift. Their first stop is at his brother Rhett's (Rhett Wilkins) house. The sympathetic Josh decides to bring the freespirited and lonesome Rhett along the journey, thus severely changing the dynamic of the romantic roadtrip. Along the way the three personalities clash resulting in profound personal revelations about each of their relationships.
A film like this runs the risk of caving in under it's own Sundance hipness. Shaky camera road pictures are a dime a dozen in low budget cinema, but it’s the performance of Mark Duplass that anchors the film in such complete naturalism. His soothing voice and confident swagger has the same appealing quality of a calm Vince Vaughn, a talent, I’m surprised no one in big budget Hollywood has yet capitalized on (well, actually he’s filming Noah Boambach’s next film with Ben Stiller).
The comic situations evolve naturally from Josh's character. For example, his stubborn need to save $20 at their first motel stop provides a wonderful comic set piece. In the scene Josh gets a motel room for one, thus avoiding the extra person charges. Which means his girlfriend and his brother have to sneak into the room without the manager noticing. It’s a great moment of physical comedy, but a scene which also reveals and instigates a crucial piece of conflict in Josh and Emily's relationship.
This relationship is the core of the film and it’s a subtle reveals. While our attention is diverted by Josh's goal of buying the chair and giving it to his father, we watch the gradual disintegration of their relationship. And it's painful for both the characters and us. Without giving away spoilers, the ending is powerful and played for suspense as much as raw tragic emotion. What will happen to Josh and Emily? After travelling the three days with them, we desperately want them to be together and work it out, this deep attachment to their characters is a testament to this power of this new breed of mumblecore filmmaker to strip away cinematic artifice like those Danish Dogme filmmakers did 10 years ago. Enjoy.