It’s highly likely that cinematic carbon daters would be caught off guard if asked to place the year of production of Andrew Bujalski’s gently observant and delightfully cine-literate debut, ‘Funny Ha Ha’. Its loyal commitment to the documentary aesthetic of late ’70s American directors like John Cassavetes and the Maysles brothers belies the astonishing fact that it was actually made in 2002. Lank-haired and lonely, Marnie (Kate Dollenmayer) is trapped in postgraduate limbo and in serious need of direction. Helplessly side-lined by the remainder of her clique who are all in the later stages of pairing off and settling down, Marnie does her best to suppress designs on ex-boyfriend, Alex (Christian Rudder), himself a greasy bundle of scatterbrained ineffectuality whose outwardly cheery disposition only serves to perplex her further. The film’s pleasures – and there are many – are similar to those enjoyed during a night in a bar with friends when the conversation flutters naturally between the mundane, the fascinating, the hilarious and the sad.
Filmed in long, hard takes on 16mm stock, the tinny sound and florid colours sit alongside some marvellously ragged dialogue (every sentence containing at least one ‘um’, ‘ah’ or ‘I don’t know’), imbuing the film with a subtle realism that allows us to feel totally comfortable in Marnie’s presence as she runs a gamut of awkwardness into young adulthood. Stripped of any pretensions and harbouring an old-fashioned (some may call it ‘uncool’) fondness for its characters, this is an undoubtedly modest yet wholly pleasurable tale about the difficulties that come with letting go of youth.