New reviews: ‘Baghead’ and ‘Boy A’ and a few comments on ‘Hell Ride’

Baghead (dirs: Jay and Mark Duplass)

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Baghead says hi

I love the opening scenes of Baghead, the second feature from filmmaking brother act Jay and Mark Duplass. Two couples are at a little regional film festival, watching a short from a filmmaker who is an old friend of one of them. The film itself, called “We Are Naked,” is almost dead-on as a parody of self-important short filmmaking with a hilariously cliched example of irrational acts to stand in for symbolic gestures, but the crowning touch is the Q&A with an audience that doesn’t have the first idea what to ask and no real motivation to find something. So a question, all too familiar to anyone who has ever attended a Q&A, opens the session: “What was your budget?” The dumb questions and self-important response (not to mention the cliché of a film itself, called “We Are Naked”) made this the greatest film festival from hell screening ever put on film. You wonder how much of that scene comes from the Duplass Bros.’ own experiences on the film festival trail.

From there the film turns into a story of two sort-of couples who spend the weekend in an isolated cabin in the woods to write a script and wind up playing romantic footsie and head games with one another (often while wearing a brown paper bag over their head).

I review the film for the Seattle P-I:

It could be the beginning of a romantic comedy, a character drama or a horror movie. The Duplass brothers manage to embrace all three with the shaggy tone and easy-going attitude all their own. Everyone eventually dons the bag to play practical jokes and head games, a simultaneously absurd and unsettling image.

It starts as an exercise in misguided high spirits to unleash pent-up frustrations, but there are enough unexpected turns to keep you wondering what exactly is going on here.

Most micro-budget character pieces (the Duplass brothers’ previous film, “The Puffy Chair,” among them) tend to shamble along and get lost in goofy detours. “Baghead,” even with its handheld shaky-cam aesthetic and emphasis on uncomfortable turns of conversation, has a deceptively swift momentum. It snuck up and surprised me in all the best ways.

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Jay and Mark Duplass: “The Hardest Part About Mixing Genres Is Mixing Genres”

baghead-poster.jpgI interviewed filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass when they visited Seattle to present their new feature, Baghead, at the Seattle International Film Festival.

By their own estimate, the Duplass brothers’ debut feature, The Puffy Chair, came in at around $15,000. Their follow-up feature, Baghead, the story of two couples who spend the weekend in an isolated cabin in the woods to write a script and wind up playing romantic games and head games with one another (often while wearing a brown paper bag over their head), is in the same ballpark.

This production model, as well as their semi-improvised approach and hyper-naturalist aesthetic, has propelled them to the head of a loose movement of microbudget filmmaking that has been slapped with the unfortunate title “Mumblecore.” It also gives a hilariously well-observed moment in the opening scene of Baghead, a film festival Q&A that kicks off with the familiar cliché of a query “What was your budget?,” a jab of satirical revenge. You just know that this question has dogged the Duplass brothers with nearly every appearance they’ve made with their films on the festival circuit.

My interview was published this week on GreenCine.

What is the fascination with making films about the uncomfortable awkwardness of human behavior in uncomfortable situations?

Jay: I don’t know. We’ve realized, after talking to press people about it, that Mark and I started having success when we started making movies about the private conversations we would have. We would go through this horrible thing with our girlfriends, or our wives now, or whatever, and I would call Mark and tell him about just how painful it is and we’d cringe and then we’d start laughing eventually. When we were first making films, we were basically making films that we thought we should make. But eventually with that breakthrough film about the answering machine, it was just so cringe-worthy and horrible but it was also hilarious and it had been the type of thing that we were always talking to each other about. It wasn’t until we tapped into that private, singular thing that we didn’t really think anyone would ever get, and they actually did get it when we at least did a decent job of putting it on screen, that we started having success. But it’s something we’ve always been obsessed with. It’s the vulnerabilities of people and the way they actually behave.

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