Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (Jake Szymanski, 2016)

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The third of a promised six(!) Anna Kendrick movies to hit Seattle Screens in 2016 is an exemplar of the mayfly model of modern American comedy. Based on a true story formerly adapted into a book, it’s about a pair of dim-witted brothers who are tasked with finding acceptable dates to their younger sister’s wedding. An opening montage establishes their vision of the world: slow-motion revelry, drinking, beautiful people, they see themselves as the life of every party. Home videos presented early in the film by their parents cleverly undermine this fantasy conviction. In fact, the two are loud, obnoxious, and clumsy: their antics destroy every gathering and event they attend. Thus their quest: they must find nice, respectable girls to keep them in line at the destination wedding in Hawaii. To this end, naturally enough, they post an ad on Craigslist, become internet famous, and suffer through a series of meet-and-greets with dreadful dames, a Seven Chances for beer-obsessed millennials. This is apparently as far as the book goes, while the film introduces Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza as the boys’ dates. A kind of Romy and Michelle for the Facebook era, Tatiana and Alice, quickly established to be just as dumb and hedonistic as Mike and Dave, pretend to be nice girls in order to get the free vacation. It’s an attempt at short-circuiting the book’s misogyny with a “hey women are gross and terrible too”. The rest of the film consists of episodic gag sequences at the wedding, with unimaginative and indifferently filmed slapstick adding an element of body horror to the vulgar dadaist improv one-liners that have become the dominant idiom of our comedies in the post-Apatow era.

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Digging for Fire (Joe Swanberg, 2015)

maxresdefaultIf there’s an equivalent to Hong Sangsoo in contemporary American cinema, I guess it may as well be Joe Swanberg. Both directors are wildly prolific, churning out tales of middle class ennui and relationship anxiety with frightening regularity. Both work with extremely low-budgets and high-quality actors, the result of the curious mix of critical acclaim and lack of box office their films achieve. Their films have a relaxed, naturalistic vibe in pace and performance, with lengthy scenes of actors seemingly just hanging out (and, more often than not, drinking). Of course, Hong is know for his structural experimentation, each film taking the form of a new exercise in narrative unreliability, where dreams and waking life, the past and the present, and multiple versions of reality all coexist in an unstable, purely cinematic universe. Swanberg, on the other hand, seems allergic to structure, shying away from anything that could be construed as plot, what can charitably be called an experiential vision of narrative. Hong always knows precisely where to place his camera, and once there, rarely moves but for an occasional ostentatious quick-zoom that serves to reframe the image and functions  as a stand-in for the emotional impact of editing. Swanberg apparently is aware that a camera is essential for the making of a motion picture.

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