* * (out of four)
Seen 7 March 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Sunday Eye-Opener)
Usually, when I see a movie at a screening where the director is present, or if he's a local guy, I feel generous, half-obliged to see the good parts and overlook the bad. I mean, the guy's in the room, possibly traveling to town just to see what you thought about the movie, or he's a neighbor, right? It's just human nature.
And I tried. I tried really hard to like Funny Ha Ha. And not just becaue, for all I know, the cute non-professional actress playing the main character, Marnie (Kate Dollenmayer), might live in this very building and I'd hate to bump into her into the laundry room and blurt out "hey, I saw that movie you were in...it sucked" (which, as anyone who knows me will attest, is not an unlikely thing to happen). Sure, I could honestly cover by saying how much I liked her, that I liked how she never came off as phony and how her character's aimlessness seemed real and not some Hollywood stereotype.
But in the end, I have to admit, I was unimpressed with the movie as a whole. It's one of that movies where I have to admire its realism but which also makes me question the worth of realism as a goal. There aren't many inauthentic moments in the movie, right down to the dialogue being filled with "like"s, "um"s, pauses, banalities and the like, but it's hard to shake the feeling that I'm paying for something that is no more interesting, no more imaginitive, and no more meaningful, than what I could get eavesdropping on the guys sitting at the next table in the pizza shop. There's almost no story, or plot; these characters haven't been created for any greater purpose, and don't seem unique or unusual enough for a character study.
The movie presents us with Marnie, a basically nice but somewhat directionless woman of 23. Soon after the movie opens, we find out that Alex (Christian Rudder), a friend she's liked since college, and his long-time girlfriend have broken up, leading to an hour plus of awkward moments. While temping, she also meets another guy, played by writer-director-editor Andrew Bujalski, who is immediately smitten. It's not really a courtship picture, though; none of the relationships exactly blossom into something really rewarding.
The structure of the movie isn't completely arbitrary; even though you can't really dissect the final scene (or most scenes) and say "this means this", there is a sense that it ends when Marnie has finally got her relationship with Alex figured out. It's kind of a nice, understated ending. Well, understated compared to other movies; it's almost momentous compared to the rest of this one.