What’s bold one day becomes blasé the next, and the sub-subgenre known as mumblecore had no sooner been declared cinema’s lo-fi savior than people started sharpening their knives. The result: We’ve seen a few emerging talents (viva Aaron Katz!) and suffered through a lot of twentysomething filmmakers who mistake solipsism for insight. The jury is still out regarding which category Joe Swanberg fits in, and his latest collaboration with the Julie Christie of no-budget indies—actor, cowriter and codirector Greta Gerwig—doesn’t clear up the matter. There are elements of this relationship drama that reflect both what these homegrown, handmade miniatures have to offer and what makes them unbearably grating.
The strains of long-distance couplehood are weighing on James (Swanberg) and Mattie (Gerwig)—he’s based in Chicago, she lives in Brooklyn—and Mattie’s visit to the Windy City isn’t going well. Cut to a year later, when James comes to NYC, and the two continue to engage in emotional ping-pong. The back-and-forth drags on; maybe they’ll end up back together. Or maybe they won’t. Whatever.
Gerwig possesses a seemingly unlimited amount of vulnerable expressions, which not only helps turn the third act’s will-they? tension into something worth investing in but also balances Swanberg’s own painfully limited range. But the movie’s attempt to become a Scenes from a Marriage for the SXSW set often comes within millimeters of self-parody; if long, awkward pauses and free-form rawness equal realism, then conversations composed entirely of arrhythmic start-stops and sequences with no shape must equal megarealism, right? Er, well…um…