Jeannie (Tilly Hatcher), a disabled person in a wheelchair, owns a vintage clothing store. Amanda, her business partner, is deeply unsatisfied with how she runs it and is considering a legal battle for ownership. Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), a young law student, tries to help out Jeannie by offering legal advice and emotional support. In the meanwhile, Jeannie’s slacker twin sister, Lauren (Maggie Hatcher), looks for steady work and a general direction in life. Finally, a new clerk is a welcome addition to the store but things get complicated when she turns out to be a tad too sentimental.
Once heralded as the leading figure in the Mumblecore movement, Bujalski’s films are uneventful “slices of life” naturalistic depictions of youth in shambles. Each story is a tragic tale of emotional teetering on the edge of madness. For this he has been compared to Cassavetes, but Bujalski’s life depictions are actually sexless, haphazard, and playfully intellectual.
His characters recede inside themselves in an attempt to grasp for an adequate language to express what might be a conditionally repressed intensity. In a sense, they are the opposite of Cassavetes’ bombastic, larger than life, overexpressive characters. But his means of examination are the same: full shots of bodies, matter-of-fact depictions of communicative behavior (mannerisms, tics), faces chosen for their anti-cinematic potential, so plain in fact that they make our expected systems of dramatic representation collapse. Along the way we discover new modes of being, and an almost ethnographic look at human presence.
Above it all, there is a kind of hidden essay on filmmaking and creativity:
The sisters are twins. (‘Same face, different bodies’)
The clothing store is called Storyville.
Jeannie, paralyzed from the waist down could be a surrogate for the audience. She is “sitting down”, watches/observes, and is the “real” manager of Storyville (the same way the viewer manages his own story). She’s involved in a legal dispute over the ownership of the store. The differences with her business partner are creative ones (creativity trumps business).
Merrill, a law student, interested romantically in Jeannie, but also an artist, a surrealist writer, always commenting on situations with non sequiturs, exaggerations, cartoonish excesses.
Lauren, the second twin, is sentimentally fickle and confused (the chaotic creative). She’s also obviously a lesbian but somehow this is understated by Bujalski. Throughout the movie she looks for work, speculates on possible futures, hangs out with drug addicts. The closest thing to a ‘drifter’ character in the story (but very reminiscent of Kate in Bujalski’s first film ‘Funny Ha Ha’). She’s the quantum fulcrum. It is through her presence that everyone else can feel anchored.
Bujalski is popularly misunderstood. His desire to shoot 16mm, “small” stories and his use of first-time actors, ties him to a deeply experimental and innovative tradition of art cinema (Cassavetes, Jem Cohen, Andy Warhol, Pedro Costa). One can only hope he keeps on working without being too affected by the lack of popular approval. I find he is constantly refreshing, layered, and most importantly, engaging.