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Mutual Appreciation

Winning, If Flawed, Neo-Slacker Comedy

On one level, indie films can be seen as examples of the semi-discredited ďauteur theoryĒ in action: indie filmmakers write, direct, and often produce, edit or even act in their own films (all by necessity). Indie films generally donít have slick production values, polished performances, conventional editing or mise-en-scene. What more memorable indie films do have in common, though, is an honesty or perceptiveness in the portrayal of flawed characters and the subcultures they move through. Mutual Appreciation, indie writer/director/actor Andrew Bujalskiís (Funny Ha Ha) second feature-length film, fits that description almost perfectly, this time focusing on the vicissitudes of three overeducated, underemployed twenty-somethings facing seemingly momentous decisions about life, love, and careers.

Hoping for a fresh start after the end of a romantic relationship and the breakup of his band, the perpetually disheveled Alan (Justin Rice) relocates from Boston to Brooklyn. Alan isn't moving to Brooklyn sans friends or connections, though. One of Alan's close friends from Boston, Lawrence (Andrew Bujalski), an equally disheveled graduate student/teaching assistant at a local university, is around for emotional support and the occasional crash pad. So is Lawrence's longtime girlfriend, Ellie (Rachel Clift), a writer for an alternative weekly. Together, the three form a casual, affectionate rapport centered on Alan and Lawrence's shared past, their mutual love of music and digressive conversations about anything and everything.

Alan interviews with a music-obsessed DJ, Sara (Seung-Min Lee), who sets Alan up with her brother, Dennis (Kevin Micka), a drummer. With Alan on guitar and vocals, they get ready to play together in less than a weekís time at a local performing space. Alan's well-meaning dad repeatedly calls, imploring him to get a job, any job to get by, but also wants Alan to succeed as a musician, connecting Alan with Walter (Bill Morrison), a music executive apparently looking for new talent. Alan also connects romantically with Sara, but ends up spending more and more time with Ellie, who volunteers to manage Alanís fledging musical career. But Alanís performance is only the first part of a very long night.

Mutual Appreciation was shot on 16mm, black-and-white film, veritť-style, with limited set-ups or camera angles where inaction (e.g., long conversation scenes) is the norm, meaning the movie isn't for everyone (or at least less adventurous, mainstream moviegoers). If you're a fan of John Cassavetes' Shadows, Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, or even Kevin Smith's Clerks, you'll have a clearer idea of what you're getting into with Mutual Appreciation. Even then, you should prepare yourself for long, dialogue-driven scenes, "realistic" conversation (with all the digressions, pauses, and circumlocutions the word ďrealisticĒ implies), and relaxed, often lax, pacing.

To be fair, Mutual Appreciation does have more than a few rough edges. While it's hard to ignore some technical or storytelling flaws (e.g., scattershot scene construction, rough transitions between scenes, the awkward introduction of secondary characters), itís easier to cut the movie slack when we take into account the efforts Bujalski and his crew had to go through to get it made. Effort alone, however, isnít usually enough to give any film, micro-budgeted indie or not, a ďpass.Ē Bujalskiís often comic, always grounded insights into character, along with an ending thatís both fully earned and surprisingly poignant, and unexpectedly credible performances from Bujalski, Rice and Clift, though, are really what make Mutual Appreciation worth seeing.

Ultimately, Mutual Appreciation reaffirms what a small group of moviegoers discovered after seeing Bujalskiís first feature-length film when it toured art houses or film festivals: Bujalski is the rare filmmaker attuned both to a specific subculture and a universal experience, which, in turn, allows viewers from different backgrounds to see themselves in his characters and their easy-to-identify-with dilemmas.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars