Funny Ha Ha

Director: Andrew Bujalski

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

THE no-budget comedy Funny Ha Ha (2005), with amazing effectiveness, captures what it is all too often actually like to be living one's clueless unfocused life.

Marnie (Kate Dollenmayer) has no idea what she wants to do now that she's out of college. So she just bounces around Boston hanging out with friends or showing up at tedious parties. She's trying to stop drinking so much, has just about every unhappy young man she knows coming on to her in one way or another, gets her own pathetic misguided crush, talks about her commonplace life & emotions with friends who're even dimmer bulbs than herself. i'd like to smack her.

Funny Ha HaFunny Ha Ha so wholly captures human mediocrity that for curmudgeons like me, the film works as an ideal expression of why I so often just don't want to hang out with people, for this really is all too often as much as people are: not artistry, no integrity, no foresight or intelligence, just lost tragic foolishness.

I am convinced the director is mercilessly lampooning normalcy, but does so with sufficient affection that any viewer sharing these characters' mediocrity may feel their own lives justified by how interesting ordinariness can become.

For the rest of us it can take a while, but slowly the lives of these characters, especially Marnie, do begin to seem to matter a great deal. Caught up in a cinema verite soap opera, we don't want her getting involved with Alex (Christian Rudder) who clearly wants to take advantage of her crush & get it on with her, so tries to keep her from finding out he's about to get married. On the other hand, Alex not a complete rotter underneath his tentative horniness, & the possibibility of sincere friendship between him & Marnie might not be a lie.

Nor do we want her doing it with her best friend's boyfriend, though he sure seems unfaithfully eager to do Marnie. At first we kind of hope she goes for the lonesome nerd Mitchell (complexly played by director Andrew Bujalksi) who is at least authentically available. But he slowly reveals himself one of the bitterest most hateful losers of all time, a man who can't quite separate his lonely lustful desires from his hatred of women who've never found him particularly studly or appealing.

Bujalksi's performance as the loser who can't get laid at first conveys pitifulness but slowly becomes creepy. Marnie's strangely submissive kindness begins to feel edgy, like when Mitchell becomes hostile because she's "too tall" & he's unable to beat her at basketball. Instead of returning anger for anger, she squats down to be shorter for him. I'd've written that jerk off the first time he revealed his true colors, but Marnie's patience is disarmingly sweet. It made me almost wish I shared her capacity to be generous to people even as they prove they deserve a solid thrashing.

Shot on less than a shoestring on 16 mm film, Funny Ha Ha slowly but surely upraises the commonplace, revealing that even the least among us may well be fascinating subjects to observe. The comparison to John Cassevetes may be a stretch, because Cassevetes was so much more stylized & overtly artsy. Bujalski has a sneaks-up-on-you unshowy genius that effectively makes something out of nothing.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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