Director: Andrew Bujalski
Writer: Andrew Bujalski
Release Date: 27 January 2015 (Sundance)
IMDB Synopsis: A frustrated son tries to determine the fact from fiction in his dying father's life.
Availability: Netflix Watch Instantly
Mid-to-late-2015? I knew there was a new Bujalski film out. I can't remember if I tracked down a torrent or waited for a DVD release. I had already seen Mutual Appreciation (promising), Beeswax (good), and Computer Chess (excellent); Bujalski was on my shortlist of Directors To Care About, so I had some high hopes for this one, though also some reservations about Bujalski "going mainstream."
Why it's on the List
The reason this is on the list is simple. It came out in 2015 and I've watched it five or so times already. It immediately clicked with me and still makes me smile and laugh as of this last re-watch.
Bujalski is not an American Rohmer, but he's the closest thing we have so far. There's nothing visually Rohmeresque about this film. But there are thematic preoccupations. Rohmer's rigorous formalism and Catholic filter are more challenging, but Bujalski's wrestling with his muddled Gen X heritage of confusion resonates with my own specifically American confusions.
Like Rohmer films, Bujalski films are propelled by conversation. Here, in addition to Rohmer's/Bujalski's probings of love and desire, how the sexes interact with one another, we are given a meditation on the body (which is not foreign to Rohmer), humorously mediated through the world of phsyical fitness trainers as a broken, depressed, fat schlub enters this world in an attempt to improve his own life. There is commentary on what it means to be a personal trainer, someone whose only job in life is to use their own bodies on behalf of others. This is a weird job (but, in theory, not too different from any teaching position). Pearce's gym owner believes in his mission to better others, to have everyone fulfill their dreams, though his own dreams depend on others wanting or needing to exercise. And yearning for more than lip service to spiritual fulfillment, this gym owner learns that he still lacks much. *Physical* fitness and discipline are what they are, but they also become metaphors for something more, or at least are marked as achievements that are hollow on their own.
Bujalski's film takes a small mess of contemporary broken people (gym people who sleep around for sport, divorced men), believable people who relate to one another imperfectly, and slowly, slyly, works toward a true happy ending. This is True Comedy.
Also, it's just undeniable that this film hit me at the right time. I was weak and fat and lazy for a long time. I decided to do something about it. From running to squatting to whatever, I slowly learned about "physical fitness" from 2013 to 2015. I was and am healthier than ever in the past, but I also learned that I'll never love that world. I'm still fat with bad habits. Good health is still foreign to me. I don't really like it. I'm a stranger there. I love beer and tobacco and books and board games and highly processed snack foods. But I've done enough lunges to be able to laugh along as Kevin Corrigan does his silly walks down the hall. And I've watched enough YouTube tutorial videos to both respect and be disgusted by so many in the fitness world, sometimes having both feelings at the same time.
- There's only one other film on the list more recent (same year) than this one.
- I had no idea who Cobie Smulders was before this film. I've since seen a couple of episodes of How I Met Your Mother and thought they were pretty stupid. I haven't seen her in anything else of interest. Guy Pearce is of course usually great; what is special here is how earnest and vulnerable he plays his character. I recognized Kevin Corrigan as a character actor before this. This was his moment to shine in the lead role and he shines.
- "If you were to stop smoking, and drinking, and eating so much shit, then you would be unstoppable."
- Damsels in Distress hit me in a similar way as a recent comedy that works as true comedy. I'm not entirely sure why this one made the list and that one didn't. I love that they both end with dancing.
- Fear Excuses Surrender