I’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.