The Movie Binge

Hannah Takes The Stairs

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"Everybody's in love with the wrong person and nobody actually hears what anybody else is saying."

I love Andrew Bujalski, I really do, but I kinda want to smack him in the face for coining the term "mumblecore," if just because it seems to diminish the value of his two excellent features, and lumps him in with peers contemporaries such as Joe Swanberg who make films that ape his style, but lack his work's depth and wit. I understand that these sort of words are helpful for marketers, curators, and journalists, but I really don't think we need to come up with 00s synonyms for "slacker."

Bujalski is in Hannah Takes The Stairs, but it's Swanberg and Greta Gerwig's movie. The two are adept at mimicking the superficial qualities of Bujalski's films -- it's basically an hour and a half of chatty though mostly inarticulate well-to-do twentysomethings kinda sorta getting together and then kinda not -- but its characters are not especially interesting or likeable, and though it obviously wants to say something about the way crushes set people up for disappointments when they don't allow themselves to make real emotional connections, the execution is clumsy and the point is weak. Whereas Bujalski's films make understated though very insightful comments on the passivity and deferred adulthood of a generation of educated young adults, Swanberg and Gerwig are content to dress up garden variety indie relationship-movie blahness in a hip new aesthetic or two. (Unsurpisingly, a good chunk of Hannah kinda looks like an American Apparel ad, and the casual yet obviously exhibitionistic nudity of some scenes recall the work of Ryan McGinley and his ilk.)

Bujalski's presence as a lead actor elevates most of his scenes -- there's a particularly great moment involving him making out with Gerwig's Hannah then kinda shrugging it off that takes full advantage of both his weirdly anti-sexual demeanor and his dry comedic timing -- but the rest of the actors lack the charisma necessary to make their characters more than just a collection of nervous tics. Everyone seems natural, but no one comes across as being a particularly smart or interesting person. Hannah frequently complains about her suitors being so devastatingly witty that she cannot compete with them in conversation, but none of the major characters ever seems to be intentionally funny. It's hard to tell whether Gerwig and Swanberg meant for their cast to seem rather dull, or if they simply went too far with the "mumblecore" formula and that was the unfortunate result.

Comments

This review really makes me want to see Bujalski's movies and not this one.

Recently, there was an article in the NYT where they quoted Bujalski sheepishly admitting he was sorry that "mumblecore" ever got out into the public lexicon...so maybe he'd take that slap in the face and then thank you for it!

At a bar one night Mr. Bujalski’s sound mixer, Eric Masunaga, coined the word “mumblecore.”

“It was an obnoxious name nobody liked and it was meant to be a joke,” said the director Joe Swanberg, who was at the festival that year with his first feature, “Kissing on the Mouth.” “But we haven’t been able to get rid of it.”

It was Mr. Bujalski who first publicly uttered the term in an interview with Indiewire.com. “I should apologize for that,” he said recently.

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