Baghead (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

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film_baghead-sm.jpgBaghead expands beyond the endless chatter associated with mumblecore and creates a film where, believe it or not, things actually happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When does a movement in independent cinema die? For most people, it would be Hollywood's late attempt to cash in on the movement's appeal. So has the mumblecore subgenre of DIY filmmaking finally hit a brick wall? With distribution from Sony Pictures Classics, the Duplass brothers' Baghead is probably guaranteed the widest audience for a film under the mumblecore moniker, a term used to describe a set of films, not unlike the Gen-X films of the '90s, about post-college twentysomethings and their attempts and inabilities to connect without the outside world. In all honestly, despite two magnificent films from Andrew Bujalski (Mutual Appreciation, Funny Ha Ha), mumblecore hasn't produced much that's worthwhile, and worse, these films left no room to grow.

A vast improvement over the brothers' last film The Puffy Chair, Baghead expands beyond the endless chatter associated with mumblecore and creates a film where, believe it or not, things actually happen. I don't mean to imply that nothing happening is a bad thing, but when you've tortured yourself sitting through all three of Joe Swanberg's films, plotting actually feels refreshing. I suppose then it would be easiest to describe Baghead as Funny Ha Ha meets The Blair Witch Project, as four struggling actors escape to a remote cabin to write, direct and star in their own film. When one of the four (Gretta Gerwig, a frequent "actress" in Swanberg's films who recently co-directed a film with him) has a nightmare about a man terrorizing her with a bag on his head, childish pranks ensue, some of which may or may not be the work of someone who's really out to get them.

Baghead is a lot of things. It's criminally meta, occasionally annoying, intermittently satisfying and sometimes very clever, even if it isn't especially wise. Where Baghead branches off from the expectations of its subgenre is where it finds its greatest success. Instead of examining in too many words the complexities of human relationships, the Duplass brothers leave more to implication, particularly between the hoodie-and-Adidas-kicks-donning Matt (Ross Partridge) and the on-her-way-to-being-a-cougar Catherine (Elise Muller). Baghead has more up its sleeve which allows for the messy relationships between the four to ruminate beneath the surface. Whether you buy into some of the film's surprises is a tough call, but Baghead in a way becomes both a celebration and a funeral. It proves that there might be some breathing room in mumblecore, but that regardless, it days are certainly numbered. | Joe Bowman

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