Monday, May 19, 2008

Baghead


"Baghead" is the new film by the Duplass Brothers, and if you have absolutely no idea who I am talking about when I say that, hopefully in the near future you will. They impressed me quite a bit with their film "The Puffy Chair" about two years ago, and they continue to impress me with the slightly better "Baghead," which is already being marketed all wrong based on the single trailer I've seen for it. "Baghead" is, at its core, a relationship comedy, with elements of horror sprinkled into it. It has pretty much the same tone as "The Puffy Chair," and even similar characters, only its in a mild horror setting. Based on the marketing it seems like Sony is trying to get this out as your typical "four people in the woods" type of movie, with laughs thrown in to tell people they are going to have a good time. And I suppose, if you really want, you can call "Baghead" one of those "mumblecore movies," that so-called genre of film making that really isn't picking up as much as Andrew Bujalski would hope. You can read more about that movement here. But I did not consider the Duplass' last film a mumblecore movie nor do I consider this one one, despite it having similar styles.

So now that I've managed to confuse everyone, why did I like "Baghead?"

First off, it started with the perfect joke for a film festival attendance to hear. The film actually starts at a film festival screening, and its a really arty and pretty bad film with some nudity thrown in. Our four main characters have quite a laugh at it. And when the director comes out for the Q & A, the Duplass Brothers poke fun at audience questions-"What was the budget?" In this case, it was one thousand dollars, but he wanted it to be half of that. And so we meet our quartet, who regroup in a restaurant after the screening and decide to go off into the woods for the weekend and write a screenplay for them to act in, and get out of being extras for the rest of their lives. There is Matt and Catherine, who seem to have had a fling going on for almost ten years. He says its over. She says that hes the love of her life. And then there is Chad, who has a little crush on his friend Michelle (the excellent Greta Gerwig), but she seems to have her eyes more set on Matt, especially during this weekend get-away. Chad seals the deal with Michelle being his movie-girlfriend (a hint at the movies heartbreakingly sweet final lines), but nobody is able to come up with any ideas until Michelle has a dream about a creepy figure outside with a bag over its head. And then suddenly creepy things start to happen, and this baghead perhaps isn't a figment of anyones imagination after all.

But like I said, this is primarily a relationship drama, with the horror used comedy, satire, and just as a way to highlight this relationship drama even more. I was surprised how great I found all of these characters, and just how natural they were to me. Greta Gerwig, who was the best part about "Hannah Takes the Stairs," even though the rest of the film did not raise the bar that high, continues to showcase her talent here, and its an extremely natural performance. There is some good buddy laughs between Matt and Chad (played by Ross Partridge and Steve Zissis, the latter of whom I wish had the last name Zissou since it comes so damn close). And Elise Muller as Catherine plays a jealous angle quite well, but also avoids being a caricature and is able to be very human here. And while the horror elements are easily bought into-there are a few fun scares sans any hint of blood and gore at all-it was not until after the film where I realized how they fit into the entire scope of the four characters and their relationships with one another. 

"Baghead" avoided being everything I had expected it to be, but in an extremely good way. I left the theatre extremely satisfied with what I saw, and I really loved everything about it. I loved the characters, their situations, and the final scene which just reached an unexpected note of poignancy, on the same level that 'The Puffy Chair" ended-these are two very abrupt endings (no fade-outs, no real hint of the film about to be over at all), but both end their films on such perfect notes. I walked out of the theatre not only happy to have seen the film, but happy that there is a contentment within this group of characters-as if they were my own friends that I just spent 85 minutes with. 


This is the aim of Andrew Bujalski's movement-to make movies with characters so natural and real that it gives the viewer the impression of being out with their friends. But his movies obviously want to be that-they reek of pretentiousness and simply try to hard. But without trying as hard, the Duplass Brothers made these natural characters that I WANTED to be around. The film just reminded that there is hope-hope in love, hope in life, and even hope in good independent film making. This is one of my personal favorite films of the year at this point.


"Baghead" was set for release in summer, but seems to have been moved to avoid confusion with "Towelhead," which was originally under the better name of "Nothing Is Private," so in the end everyone really loses. 

Final Rating-
**** of ****

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