Dir/scr: Andrew Bujalski. US. 2009.100mins.
The leading director of the so-called mumblecore movement - or ‘Slackavetes’, as it is sometimes amusingly dubbed - Andrew Bujalski’s third film is another memorably natural character piece evoking the spirit of Rohmer, Cassavetes and Woody Allen in a uniquely young American style. Smart, sweet and deeply involving, Beeswax will only enhance Bujalski’s reputation with international critics and loyal fans.
Unlike Humpday, Lynn Shelton’s mumblecore comedy which sold to Magnolia at Sundance and has some appeal for wider audiences, Bujalski’s films are resolutely arthouse. As with Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation, Beeswax ends abruptly on a cliffhanger, a conceit which Bujalksi clearly insists upon, but which here is more irritating than fanciful. Even upscale audiences are divided over the merits of mumblecore at the moment, and the hugely talented Bujalski will need to come up with some new tricks as his oeuvre expands to win over a bigger fanbase.
Set in Austin, Texas, the film revolves around twin sisters - Jeannie (Tilly Hatcher) who has been a paraplegic since youth, and Lauren (Maggie Hatcher). Jeannie is partnered in a vintage clothing store with an old friend Amanda (Dodge) but the two are becoming estranged and Jeannie is afraid that Amanda is trying to oust her from the partnership. Lauren is between jobs and between boyfriends and is considering a teaching job in Kenya.
This being mumblecore, there is no plot as such. Jeannie consults a lawyer about her rights regarding the situation with Amanda and enlists an old boyfriend of hers Merrill (Karpovsky), who is studying for the bar, to help her. The two start sleeping together and Merrill becomes passionately involved in the situation, trying to find new investors who could buy Amanda out. Meanwhile Lauren goes home to visit their mother, whose girlfriend Sally (played by Janet Pierson, who runs the Austin SXSW film festival) offers to invest.
Acted with charm and unaffectedness by non-professionals, Beeswax is typical Bujalski - full of apparently mundane incidents and asides which a Hollywood film would hack out in a heartbeat but which effectively serve to give depth and insight into the daily lives of Jeannie and Lauren. Characters come in and out with no real narrative purpose - like an emotional new sales assistant at the store called Corinne (O’Connor) or a lascivious old friend of the sisters called AC (Taitelbaum) - but they only heighten the enthralling realism of the piece.
Perhaps the most refreshing element of Beeswax is that Jeannie’s paraplegic condition is never a focus in the script; she ably moves around in her wheelchair, disassembles and reassembles the chair to drive, and gets leg massages at the end of a tiring day. But first and foremost she is a fully functioning character - running a business, rekindling an old love, fighting with friends, annoying her employees. Disabled advocacy groups around the world will welcome Beeswax as a ground-breaker.
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