Rec Room: Beeswax

BeeswaxI’ve already sung the praises of Andrew Bujalski on this site, and I had the pleasure of seeing his third feature, Beeswax, at the BAM Cinemafest this past Sunday. Beeswax is nominally the story of twin sisters, Jeannie and Lauren (Tilly and Maggie Hatcher, respectively), and the broiling legal problems between Jeannie and her AWOL business partner, Amanda. The possibility of a lawsuit (Jeannie and Amanda own a vintage clothing store in Austin) puts Jeannie back in touch with her ex-boyfriend, Merrill (filmmaker Alex Karpovsky), while Lauren contemplates leaving the country in the face of perpetual unemployment. It should go without saying, they all  spend a lot of time worrying (and talking) about other people’s lives.

The fact that Jeannie is paraplegic is an unavoidable fact of the film, but it is by no means the point of the film: it just is. There is no slow reveal. One of the first shots of the film is Jeannie aptly maneuvering her way around the store where she works, and it’s refreshing that the story focuses so much on a group of people already familiar with one another, so that no explanation is awkwardly foisted upon the audience to explain her disability.

But Jeannie also has a sister, with the same face, able-bodied, and a similar hapless charm. Like Mutual Appreciation and Funny Ha Ha, not a lot happens in Beeswax, which is what makes the film such a pleasure to watch–all the almost happenings. There are moments of possible sexual tension between Merrill and Lauren, and yet it’s never more than a hint. We see much more of Jeannie than Amanda, but we see just enough of Amanda to understand that Jeannie isn’t necessarily the martyr of their situation. Bujalski works only with non-professional actors, improvising the majority of the script, and when he said at last night’s follow-up Q&A that his films “wouldn’t work with trained actors,” it made perfect sense. The connection between these actors (the sisters in particular) is impossible to replecate. To have cast two unrelated actresses as Jeannie and Lauren would be to make pale carbon copies of their fascinating bond. Perhaps because he shoots on film and edits his own work by hand, Bujalski’s work stands out as more sophisticated in both composition and style compared to similar directors like Jay Duplass or Joe Swanberg. It’s a near perfect mix of old-school filmmaking and micro-indie atmosphere–awkward, awkwardly funny, and all-too-real.

Beeswax opens at the Film Forum in New York on August 7. Blink, but be sure not to miss it.

Flashback: The Sopranos, Season 1

I’ll most likely go into greater detail about the episodes in later posts, but I thought I’d get some of my first impressions out there in the meantime.

  • Of all things, I forgot how funny this show is, that at times, it seems to be a comedy first, and a brutal crime drama second, without ever sinking into true satire.
  • I’ve now caught up to the Sopranos episode, “College,”  that is generally considered the turning point at which viewers and critics alike sat up and said “Holy crap, this show is really good.” So much happens over the course of the next six seasons, but this is the show at its best, with Tony’s two families edging dangerously close to one another. We see him attempt to give his (horribly obnoxious) daughter the candid relationship she wants (or says she wants), all the while knowing he can’t be truly honest–no matter how much bravado Meadow shows, she could never handle the bare truth of who her father is. We watch as Tony stalks a former mobster-turned-rat and then brutally strangles him. The amount of effort Tony has to physically expend to kill the man, even a man of his stature, is what reminds the audience that while the show may be funny more often than not, and while we find our selves rooting for the “sad clown” mafioso, Tony is someone who does horrible, violent things without a moment’s hesitation. Which is probably why he’s the one who ends up alive at the episode.

Other things I’ve caught  up on in the last week or so:

  • All of Mad Men, seasons 1 and 2–and good lord, why did it take me so long to join the club? I’m completely infatuated with everything about this show, how much care and detail they put into the writing and design of each episode, the complexity of the characters, particularly its anti-hero Don/Dick (no surprise, given that show creator Matthew Weiner was a writer for the Sopranos). I CANNOT WAIT till August for this show to start up again. In the meantime, Sally, make me an old-fashioned.
  • The True Blood season 2 premiere. The credits are still the coolest thing about this show, sadly, but for whatever reason I’ll probably keep watching. Such is the allure of good trash.

Mid-Year Resolutions

I apologize for the prolonged absence, and I will get back to regularly-scheduled posting as soon as I can. In lieu of that I wanted to lay out a few of my entertainment related goals for the summer:

  1. Participate in Infinite Summer. You know what this means? I’ll finally finish the literary albatross that’s been sitting on my shelf for seven years now (I’ve made it up to around page 300, I think…I may need to find a cliff’s notes to refresh myself as to what I’ve already read, since I’m sure as hell not starting from the top). If the mood strikes me, I may post my observations along the way (or just send you along to those who are making more astute comments than I.) I will say this, from what I’ve read so far. The reason I still haven’t given up on Infinite Jest is that it’s so clearly brilliant. At times it seems like Foster Wallace was throwing his various themes and tones at the page and seeing what stuck, but even if one were to belittle this book as nothing more than an excercise in developing style, it’s an impressively compelling one nonetheless.
  2. Finally get around to watching the end of The Sopranos (I know!). Now, of course I know about the (in)famous series finale, but I’m hazy on the details of Season 6, Part 2. It’s strange that I fell off the wagon at this point, seeing as how I’d watched the show religiously for years. When I first encountered it, we still didn’t have cable at home, so my brother had taped the first two seasons for us as a Christmas present. My parents were immediately addicted, staying way up past their bedtime, watching for marathon stretches, and soon brought me into the fold. The compelling, novel premise of the show (and the fact that Nancy Marchand as Livia sounded exactly like my paternal grandmother) was enough to get us hooked. Since it’s been so long, however, I’m going to start from the very beginning–and I’m really curious to see how the seasons tie together when you watch them back to back. I don’t remember the Sopranos being as baroquely constructed as other HBO gems The Wire and Deadwood (another show I’m on a roll with–watched the entirety of season 1 over the weekend and am hoping to follow soon with S2 and 3.), but I could still use a refresher on the ins-and-outs of the Soprano clan and all their hangers-on.

But when I have a free moment, look for reviews of the latest from St. Vincent, Peter Bjorn and John–and hopefully, a live show or three. If I’m feeling daring, I may toss some books and telly in there as well. Happy summer, everyone!