Hannah Takes the Stairs **
Directed by Joe Swanberg
Written by Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig
Greta Gerwig as Hannah
Kent Osborne as Matt
Andrew Bujalski as Paul
Ry Russo-Young as Rocco
Mark Duplass as Mike
Todd Rohal as Brian Duges
82 Minutes(Not Rated-Language, Nudity)
Before I review the so-so film "Hannah Takes the Stairs," playing until August 28th at the IFC Center, let me tell you a little bit about a new genre of film taking place right under our eyes, that you are probably unaware about.
Is anybody aware that we are living through film history at the moment? You know how all those textbooks, and Internet fan people rave about things like the "French New Wave," or the "Dogma 95 Movement." Well, now ten years from now they will be talking about a movement that started only a few years ago-2004 or 2005, depending on what you call the films release. Founded-and dubbed the "mumblecore movement"-by Andrew Bujalski, whose film "Funny Ha Ha" started this thing. You probably aren't aware of this movement, because as of now these films usually don't open in cities with population ten. Sometimes I find them on the Sundance Channel, but it's usually the small art houses in New York and LA that get them first, and last because they usually bomb at the box office. He is a pioneer, but Bujalski's "Funny Ha Ha"-which I gave a simple one star rating-puts him on the same page as Christopher Columbus-who pioneered a land, and then murdered everywhere there. Bujalski may have invented this so called "mumblecore movement," but "Funny Ha Ha" slaughtered my eyes and my ability to have fun at the movies.
But what is mumblecore? Mumblecore films are made by ultra independent filmmakers-these movies are usually shot on location at friends houses, made for a few bucks, shot on a cheap digital camera, and in the case of "Hannah Takes the Stairs," was probably edited on the same MAC computers that make appearances in the film. The movie has two shots of credits at the very end, and its just a list of special thanks. That's how many people are involved with the making of these movies. It is a small group of film-makers that rotate acting, directing, and writing. And the scripts are usually just guides from the director-here Joe Swanberg-and most of the lines are thought up by the actors off the tops of their heads. They try to capture the awkwardness of everyday life with endless scenes of people hanging out, doing stupid things during their conversations-I'll get to that later-and mumbling their lines when they don't want the person they are talking to to hear what they are saying-thus "mumblecore." I like these films the same way I like Richard Linklater's early films-not at all.
"Funny Ha Ha" started this thing, and I really detested that movie with a passion. My problem with that film was not the lead performance by Kate Dollenmayer-who was pretty decent and disappeared off the face of the earth. My problem was that even though it was realistic, it did not make for interesting viewing. I could have the same plot from "Funny Ha Ha" and go out for a few nights with some friends. Some films actually make you feel like you are hanging out-for example the wedding scene in "The Deer Hunter," or most of "Goodfellas." But these films-"Funny Ha Ha" especially-made me want to go hang out to get away from these so called "characters" who have nothing better to do than to wander around aimlessly, have trouble finding love, and then end up complaining because they have no money. Well, you can see all of the "mumblecore films" you'd like at the IFC Center in New York City from August 22nd to September 4th, in a festival they are calling "The New Talkies: Generation DIY." The festival will include several mumblecore films, many of which I have not seen and do not intend on seeing based on what I've seen so far. They also include one week engagements of "Hannah Takes the Stairs," and "Quiet City," which opened next week and I have nixed from my schedule. This is my only trip to the festival.
Out of the bunch I can recommend one, but I don't know if I would really call it "mumblecore." I saw "The Puffy Chair" a little over a year ago, and while it does feature the "hanging out" scenes, it does seem realistic, but in a sweet and poignant way. The realism comes from the depiction of a relationship between the two characters, and they play it the way people in relationships act. That film actually had a script, and situations that were comic and that worked at the same time. That film is playing on August 26th and 27th at 12:20, and 9:55, and if you have not yet seen it, it's certainly worth checking out.
And now for "Hannah Takes the Stairs."
"Hannah Takes the Stairs" has a foundation over the lead performance by Greta Gerwig-whose cute in a "girl next door" kind of a way. On one very hot summer she is dating Mike, played by "Puffy Chair"s Mark Duplass, who exits this film much too early. But she simply isn't happy, much like Mike wasn't happy working which is why he quit his job and decides to do nothing for a while. I can relate to that, but then again I'm eighteen and he's twenty-eight. Whose the bigger loser? So she dumps him, but soon finds herself dating Paul, one of her co-workers. And we see their relationship, until she begins to become unhappy once more, but finds solace in the arms of her other co-worker friend Matt.
And that's more or less the plot, or better-the loose connection of scenes that make us feel like we're watching conflict. But we're not watching real conflict. We're watching life, but we're watching it in an awkward way that I find more annoying than amusing. I am all for believable dialogue and conversation, but it does not make for interesting film. While I did not find anything to rave about in "Hannah Takes the Stairs," it was a strong notch above the Andrew Bujalski. I just do not like him, and find literally nothing good to say. Even his work in this film-acting wise-I wanted to punch him. He has this aura of a pompous nature, and he was the only character that I actually found to be forcing his so called "believable dialogue and conversation." Take a scene where Hannah asks him to come up to her apartment. They are sitting on a couch and she asks him a question. He picks up a slinky and puts on end over her ear and begins to speak into the other end. No other character does anything this obviously forced and trite, but Bujalski does. I think its because he wants to seem more lifelike, but it just made him completely silly and I was laughing at him, and not with him.
The good thing about this film was Greta Gerwig, who played Hannah. While she doesn't really have a career as an actress in anything than these films, she had a decent center on this one. I think I have a grip on Swanberg's movie-the title, which I think represents Hannah's constant struggle and her hard ways of going through life. She takes the long route of the stairs instead of something simple as an elevator. But when you're watching a movie like this, there is no way to end it because it keeps going on and on. At 82 minutes this should be a breeze, but it seemed like a burden. And the ending, which does find a certain way to close up what is happening, is only tentative peace. Hannah has found happiness for the moment, but based on what happened in the first eighty minutes of the movie you know it isn't going to stay that way. So there is no real conflict or story arc to follow. There is nothing to follow except for our characters going to parties, to each others houses, to work, or to their bedrooms.
All I hear about are raves from critics saying how neat this new wave is, but audiences that I've encountered seem to disagree. At both "Funny Ha Ha," and "Hannah Takes the Stairs," there were tons of walkouts. I remember "Funny Ha Ha" was packed when I walked in, but nearly empty when I left. These films do not have appeal, and they are almost all the same story but with different actors and directors. I do not need to watch characters aimlessly trying to get through life for an hour and a half. It does not make for interesting cinema. Maybe for an interesting experiment, but an entire movement? I think not. I can't see "Mumblecore" being as everlasting-in this time or fifty years from now-as French New Wave or Dogma 95-two more movement I wasn't too fond of-but for now I guess its a sub-level of independent film. The lowest level I can find.