A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Jay Duplass, 2005, USA, 85 mins
Cast: Mark Duplass, Kathryn Aselton, Rhett Wilkins
You will either love or hate the Duplass brothers’ low budget indie flick about mundane people in their mid-twenties. Filmed on digital camera, The Puffy Chair is akin to recently released Funny Ha Ha (2002) and early Richard Linklater. It has a similar film school look, slow but steady pacing, no explosions or gunfights, just realistic conversational dialogue, which explains all the “dudes”, and scenes that focus on characters dealing with everyday problems. It is also a very American film with one scene that is a direct homage to Cameron Crowe’s John Hughes-esque Say Anything (1989) and the indie rock soundtrack.
This road movie follows the controlling, cynical, failed indie rock musician Josh’s (Duplass) quest to pick up a birthday present for his father, a 1985 Lazy Boy, and then deliver it across country. The night before he is due to leave, he argues with his clingy, marriage-obsessed girlfriend Emily (Aselton), and to make amends brings her along. Josh’s easygoing hippy brother Rhett (Wilkins) unexpectedly joins them too. On the road, Josh and Emily confront the future of their relationship; complications arise regarding the chair, and Rhett meets who he thinks is the girl of his dreams.
Emily and Josh’s somewhat stagnant relationship is the main focus throughout, and the source of much of the film’s tension and strengths. She wants them to move forward onto marriage, while he is still undecided if she is ultimately the girl for him. The nature of relationships is explored through Josh’s own demands for perfection. Josh plays an unfinished song to Emily he wrote for her and it is symbolic of their own relationship: for Josh everything has to be perfect, so the song remains a work-in-progress, but Emily is happy with the way it is. What is expected to be a moment of sweetness turns into bickering, like everything else for them. The weakness here though is that Emily often comes across like a female character obviously written by a male, exaggerated and overly whiney. That being said, the performances throughout are excellent.
There is also some well-crafted comedy. A scene in which a motel clerk catches on to the thrifty Josh’s attempt to sneak Emily and himself into a motel room for one is hilarious. A mock wedding between Rhett and a girl he met earlier that day injects some romance into the proceedings and even though Rhett, his brother’s opposite, a romantic acutely aware of everyone else’s drama, is blind to his own naivety, Josh isn’t.
Some of the shaky handheld camera work and sudden close ups that often take a second to get in focus provide uncomfortable viewing and don’t add anything a camera on a tripod and medium shot wouldn’t. Still, The Puffy Chair thrives despite this as Jay Duplass’ feature film debut delivers an accessible and enjoyable portrait of American ennui and the nature of relationships.