‘The Puffy Chair’ Breaks Up with Hollywood’s Illusion of Lasting Relationships

11 December, 2013

Mark-and-Jay-DuplassMark and Jay Duplass exhibit the mundane elements of everyday life with The Puffy Chair, a road-trip film that explores these banalities as its self-centered characters go on a journey yet essentially do nothing extraordinary except watch television and disagree with each other. This quasi-documentary glimpse into the triteness of life utilizes naturalism and a low-budget style that diverges from conventional Hollywood filmmaking. The Duplass brothers satirize interpersonal issues when blurring the lines between their real and fictional relationships, with family members and significant others playing parts alongside Mark Duplass in this independent film. With breakdowns in communication, the duo mocks the quickness of romantic relationships in Hollywood films, questioning viewer’s acceptance for this hyper-compressed construction of time. Through presenting failures in communication as an antithesis to Hollywood conventions, The Duplass brothers’ mumblecore film anticlimactically and naturalistically shows the disintegration of romantic relationships.


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With the approach toward naturalism, the camera often spins around in search of the action rather than knowing where the next moment takes place. Comparable to Dogma 95 films, no shots exist without the shakiness of the digital camera recording the action like a home video. Minimal sets and no special lighting also become evident, enhancing the sense of real life similar to other independent films of the 2000s like Half Nelson. In doing so, the Duplass brothers look at relationships through the comedy and entertainment that comes from moment-based, dysfunctional scenarios rather than life-altering, climactic events. Regarding relationships of even unlikable characters, this brings viewers a more genuine identification that Hollywood films cannot re-create without this unpredictable, home-video style.

Rhett and Amber’s relationship comes without much build-up. The film stops following them in what seems like an eventful day after they meet. Instead, it stays with Joel and Emily in all their dullness, watching television and talking. This does not further the plot other than exhibiting the unexceptional happenings of everyday life, not letting the film skip over any of these mundane activities in pursuit of something more interesting somewhere else. Viewers only see the promise of Rhett and Amber’s first encounter, yet the suddenness of their marriage forces the audience into dooming the relationship rather than interpreting it as a hopeful scenario. Joel also acknowledges the ridiculousness of the situation, yet he allows for suspending his disbelief during the surprise engagement party that escalates into becoming a wedding.

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The Puffy Chair’s strength as an independent rather than big-budget, studio film comes from its improvisational style. This quality occurs not only with performances, but also with the cinematography. A camcorder aesthetic gives an impromptu sense of unscripted urgency when the camera, often refocusing and providing extreme close-up, gives viewers an intimacy with the characters while maintaining an atmosphere of movement and spontaneity. Though reliant on this spontaneity, this wedding scene makes an overt effort at scripting lines when Rhett repeats his wedding vows after what Joel dictates. Still, unlike the performances for typical, Hollywood films, Rhett cannot say the lines verbatim even within moments of Joel’s dictation. In this scene, Rhett also makes minor alterations to his brother’s words, exemplifying the immediate disconnect between the way the characters communicate in the film as well as Rhett’s incapability in promising commitment to Amber.

This scene also makes an anticlimactic parody of the fast-paced romances in Hollywood films; Rhett meets his wife and ends their relationship within a day. In her article, “Against Hollywood: American Independent Film as a Critical Cultural Movement,” Sherry B. Ortner says, “Where Hollywood films seek to provide escape and fantasy, independent films seek to tell realist or hyper(bolic)-realist stories about the world as it really is, in all its ugliness and cruelty, or all its weirdness and strangeness…” (Ortner 10-12). Ortner describes how Hollywood idealizes situations in a way unlike independent films. Emily, Joel’s girlfriend who deludes herself with romanticizing relationships, falls into this Hollywood mentality that separates her from Joel.

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Emily spends her free time watching movies and hoping for pop-culture reenactments, like Joel holding speakers outside her window. These moments also show that other films exist as fictions and entertainment for parodies within the world of this Duplass brother’s mumblecore. In creating these Hollywood ideals, Emily convinces herself of the possibilities for an unrealistic, happy ending for Rhett and Amber even though the relationship disintegrates as fast as it ignited. Even the eBay-bought chair, which Rhett believes taints their group relationship, meets an anticlimactic end. Rhett lights it on fire and within that minute, a stranger extinguishes it, putting out the flames to a potentially dramatic instance without letting the moment build up.

The moment becomes prosaic in the same way Emily and Joel’s relationship dissolves without a grand payoff. In the opening scene, when Emily and Joel fight and she storms off, this dramatic occurrence fizzles when Joel walks back inside his house instead of chasing after her. Later in the film, Joel says, “There’s a lot of things in this world we pursue that seem really important to us and we get wrapped up in.” In a Hollywood film, one attributes this pursuit to winning over the significant other. In this film, Joel fights harder for the trivial upholstering of an unappealing chair than for his relationship.


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The final scene also removes itself from Hollywood conventions by rejecting the happy ending. As Ortner writes, “…Hollywood films are in the business of fantasy and illusion, independent films… are usually highly realist; and finally, where Hollywood films classically have happy endings, independent films rarely do” (2). Here in the film’s final moments, Joel and Emily break up. While they argue with each other throughout the film, no big fight occurs within their splitting up. They make an amicable departure to their relationship, hugging each other for closure to a relationship they leave behind. Dissimilarly, Hollywood films prefer the happy, boy-gets-the-girl endings or scenes of aftermath in showing how characters cope with the break ups, like with He’s Just Not That Into You’s network narrative exemplifying each of these scenarios.

The Puffy Chair provides neither of those alternatives. Instead, it opts for authenticity, especially with Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton being a couple while playing the parts of two people in a relationship. In addition, the non-actor parents of Mark and Jay Duplass play Joel and Rhett’s parents in the film. By doing so, The Puffy Chair creates an overlap between real life and the fictitious plot of the film by blending actors and characters. This authenticity and naturalism gives viewers the impression of watching what happens in the real world rather than an upbeat ending one hopes for in a conventional, Hollywood comedy. If Hollywood films sugarcoat or sweep away the harsh realities of opposites attracting in relationships or sudden romance, independent films such as The Puffy Chair use tough love for reminding viewers of the problems present in these scenarios.

Unlike Hollywood films, The Puffy Chair approaches break-ups as the result of rushed relationships where characters lack commitment. The lack of communication between Emily and Joel exemplifies two people with different agendas. She wants marriage while he confronts her for unrealistic expectations of him. They stay together until the randomness of life happens on a road trip where they learn their differences, break up, and implicitly move on. The Duplass brothers mimic the naturalness of real-life disagreements, like neorealist films do in presenting the everyman and using non-professional actors for authenticity, instead of giving viewers an escape into the excitement of studio-concocted productions about finding everlasting love. In a way, The Puffy Chair even makes a joke of seeking excitement from Hollywood cinema when Rhett says, “So we pretty much have the whole day to do nothing,” which they do, so they go see a movie.

Works Cited

Half Nelson. Dir. Ryan Fleck. Screenplay by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. Perf. Ryan Gosling. Thinkfilm and Hunting Lane Films Present, 2006. DVD.

He’s Just Not That Into You. Dir. Ken Kwapis. Screenplay by Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein. Prod. Drew Barrymore. Perf. Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, and Bradley Cooper. Warner Bros., 2009. DVD.

Ortner, Sherry B. “Against Hollywood: American Independent Film as a Critical Cultural Movement.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2.2 (2012): 1-21. HAU Journal. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.

The Puffy Chair. Dir. Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass. Screenplay by Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass. Perf. Mark Duplass, Katie Aselton, and Rhett Wilkins. Roadside Attractions, 2005. DVD.

‘Prisoners’ Review

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Overall Rating: 3.5/4

Cinematography

I had no idea who the cinematographer for this particular film was, but as I watched it I kept thinking of how incredible it all looked. It felt familiar, too. When the end credits rolled, seeing the name Roger Deakins made perfect sense.

Deakins, one of the greatest directors of photography, can do no wrong. A very small handful of men find themselves in his league, such as Kaminski and Richardson. With 10 Academy Award nominations, this man is the Meryl Streep of cinematography. His work has a mesmerizing quality of elegance. In Prisoners, the subtleties and smoothness of his camerawork are hauntingly impressive. The lighting for this film is intentionally consistent, unlike Skyfall’s variety, so the film maintains its performance-driven quality. His lighting, while not being overpowering, is still striking; especially in a moment where Detective Loki throws open a door to a basement. With negative space and scenery, Deakins creates the sense of a tension that is both beautiful and disturbing within the shots.skyfall_deakins-620x435

 Acting

Prisoners contains a large group of people who know how to nail mannerisms, even for somewhat vague roles. This proves the power of emotionally driven performances, even when all the background information doesn’t lend itself to dialogue in the script. Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and Hugh Jackman really did their homework and threw themselves into disturbing roles of characters with moments of contempt and redemption. Viola Davis, Maria Bello, and Terrence Howard play the broken-down parents of missing children with depth, and Melissa Leo is almost unrecognizable.

 Directing

Denis Villenueve pushes these actors over the edge. He does not hold back in presenting the horrors of this film’s subject matter, and that is what a movie with this kind of a context needs. This is not the kind of film for playing it safe and the pacing of this film never slows down or speeds up where it should not. It hits those beats with ease, even for a film that goes well over 2 hours. This film must have had an incredible editor as well.

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This is screenplay is an emotional roller coaster. The moments rise and fall in heartbeats, and in numerous moments I caught myself gaping at the screen, literally on the edge of my seat. It gives hope as fast as it takes it away and has you questioning right and wrong throughout.

There are controversial motives in this script, but it is the ending that leaves most viewers divided. Aaron Guzikowski leaves the final moments open for interpretation, where many hope for more closure. Still, even with its twists and turns, how often is there closure in these real-life situations? The answer is hardly ever, and the screenplay provides more closure than it may even need to. Sure, it’s an open ending that fades out moments too soon for some, but whatever comes after should be obvious. The ending, while not perfect for everyone, is perfect for the film. It is an ending that leaves a lingering feeling with you long after the film finishes, and haunting and hopeful feeling that’s hard to shake off and is much more powerful than relieving every emotional wound this film inflicts.

 Score

I am not sure I have ever experienced more stress watching any other film. Probably not, and a lot of that goes to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, which is as seamless to the film as Roger Deakins’ camerawork. The score is subtle as well, which is admirable. Sometimes scores, in a self-indulgent way, draw too much attention to themselves for these sorts of stress-inducing films, but like the lighting, this score does not overpower. By not overpowering, it elevates the emotional drive of the film.

‘The Bling Ring’: Why Is This A Movie?

OVERALL RATING: Do I really have to rate this? 0.5/4

Cinematography

This movie is so fascinating if you want to see obnoxious people do cocaine in a car, or cocaine in a club bathroom, or sit in a closet. There’s the added bonus of seeing repetitive security camera footage. Oh, and you’ll love all the paparazzi videos of no-talent celebrities that you never cared about seeing before. Cutting edge. Seriously, how much money did they give Harris Savides and Christopher Blauvelt to do this?

Apply lipgloss... for the entire movie.

Apply lipgloss… for the entire movie.

Acting

Vapid, obnoxious characters everywhere. I doubt their real-life counterparts fare any better, but this is a film. If an audience is going to spend money and 2 hours of their time watching these losers, then at least add some dynamics. None of their underdeveloped, pathetic backstories do anything for sympathy. I stand by my opinion that Emma Watson is not a very good actress. Her American accents create painful movie-going experiences and that goes against the fact that the person she portrays in this garbage probably cannot even articulate the alphabet. I’m not going to bother talking specifically about anyone else because they all bore me beyond belief.

Directing/Writing

The only director note this movie probably had was, “sound annoying and look busy by snorting cocaine.” At least Sofia Coppola stays behind the cameras nowadays. That’s the only kindness this film does for us, but we’ll still never forget The Godfather III. I’d expect a career of cinematic brilliance as an apology for that, but it seems like the joke is on everyone else for letting her make this film and reminding us that she doesn’t understand characters, not even in writing. There are more trips to Paris Hilton’s closet than character development in this film. We all know people take selfies but we really don’t need to see an entire movie of it. The film presents such an awkward structure as well, but

Every other line in the film: "Take a picture."

Every other line in the film: “Take a picture.”

the nonlinear moments and voiceover cut-ins add nothing interesting. This entire film could’ve been 30 minutes long and still told the same dull story. It could’ve been 10 minutes long and maybe we’d have an interesting short film, or zero minutes because it shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Music

The music is the only thing that works for this film… until the characters sing along to nearly every song.

‘World War Z’ Review

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OVERALL RATING: 2.5/4

Cinematography

Swarms of zombies seen from afar. Anything up close and personal is left more for the imagination. There are quick moments that Ben Seresin does a great job capturing, such as the red flare lights, pharmacy scene, and rainy runway aesthetic. The films takes the audience to many different places under various conditions, and Seresin does a great job keeping up with those changes. Overall, it seems like his best cinematic work.???????????

Acting

There are no outstanding performances in this film, except maybe from a couple zombies. Brad Pitt plays it straight as Gerry, the family man well-endowed with survival skills. Pitt is a brilliant character actor and roles like these don’t do justice for his talents. I’d rather see Tyler Durden fight zombies, Detective David Mills investigating the cure, or Rusty Ryan steal from a zombie-infested research center. We hear of Gerry’s backstory in dialogue, but why bother if he’s just so normal and blasé? Gerry seems quick-witted and more importantly, unflawed, making his character much less interesting.

Directing 

Expect more of an action movie than a blood-and-guts film. Marc Forster does a great job capturing the global chaos of a zombie apocalypse, but he does not focus much on individuals in danger, leaving audiences with less sympathy toward the film’s many zombie victims. The film constantly moves from place to place with its shaky camera, which is understandable given the circumstances of a global apocalypse, but it needs more beats for Gerry’s character. I attribute this to a lack of character development and while it may not be in the script, Forster could have found some moments within scenes like when the family finds shelter or in Gerry’s many nightmares.

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Writing

Many last-minute, drastic script changes went into this film, resulting in an entirely new ending. Once Pitt’s character leaves his family, the film gradually loses its sense of danger. Zombies are everywhere, but he’s the only character the audience really needs to care for and they already announced the sequel. The film throws so many odd characters into the mix as well without really making much effective use of them.

It is an interesting world when zombies run, rather than shuffle around, but anyone familiar with Zombieland won’t see World War Z as pushing any envelopes. In fact, the film loses its edge by its second act, and there’s arguably no tension at all in the convenient and hasty final act. This film does a poor job of setting anything up for the sequel as well, ending as a standalone feature.

Score

Marco Beltrami’s score surges through the film but it’s only after that you realize its impact. It’s not about scares, but it is about the tension that builds during a global crisis. The score maintains the suspense of the film more than any other aspect. It’s especially unnerving after Gerry and his family realize that a traffic jam soon becomes a Philadelphia zombie takeover.

‘The Heat’ Review

I’ll start by saying I wasn’t in the best of moods before seeing this but thankfully, this film in not what a lackluster trailer had anyone believing. Many still may not enjoy it but I think that as a comedy, the film did what it should because I felt better while watching it. I even laughed a few times.

OVERALL RATING: 3/4 

Cinematography

I don’t believe that comedies shouldn’t have an identifiable style. Usually, it’s the darker comedies, like In Bruges, that take the risk but I think it’s time for the genre to try a little harder. This is why I appreciate The Hangover films because even as mass-appealing comedies, they have a specific look. This is also where praise for a lot of Simon Pegg and British films comes in. The Heat doesn’t really light any cinematic sparks in this department though, which is especially disappointing since you may know the cinematographer, Robert D. Yeoman, for his work on Dogma and many fantastic Wes Anderson films. As a filmgoer, if you’re only looking for some inspiring lighting or memorable long takes, this isn’t the film for you.

Acting

Melissa McCarthy outshines Sandra Bullock, and everyone else in this film, but both women have great awareness with physical comedy. They swear as much as they like as well, which is a lot with McCarthy’s insults, and it’s unapologetically funny. As per usual, McCarthy’s husband cameos in the film as well. Another great appearance is from Nathan Corddry, for any fan of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and other recognizable television faces include Kaitlin Oslon from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Tony Hale from Arrested Development, and Andy Buckley from The Office.Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 8.17.28 PM

Directing 

Paul Feig, above all, is probably the reason this film does hit its comedic beats. His body of work proves his diversity with comedy (yes, not all comedy is the same and not everyone works well with each style), and he sets high standards for female-driven comedies, especially because of Bridesmaids. He seems to be the perfect director for McCarthy as well. She’s one of the funniest women around, but it seems that especially with Feig does her natural humor as the inappropriate character with heart please audiences the most.

Writing

The payoffs are predictable in Katie Dippold’s script, but at least the film keeps its pace. The problem with many comedies that extend over the 90 minute mark is that so many lose comedic steam midway through. When the energy gets lost in the script, the audience loses the laughter momentum as well. The Heat, playing off of its predictability, comes with a variety of  moments so ridiculous that it’s hard not to laugh, like McCartney’s “bad-cop” interrogation style or Bullock’s knife encounter. Not bad for a comedy that extends over 2 hours, especially since a sequel is now in the works.

"The Heat" New York Premiere - Outside ArrivalsThere is an issue with the generic lead characters. I wish they were something new to the buddy-cop genre rather than uptight FBI agent and reckless cop. The fact that they are female leads doesn’t excuse this lack of character development or make it refreshing. Merely dealing with gender doesn’t push any envelopes if the females are written like stereotypical male characters. This is the same issue Zero Dark Thirty had, because why are strong female characters basically written like a male, yet constantly proving themselves to men?

Jurassic Park 3D Re-Release

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Visually, Jurassic Park is one of the most incredible films ever made with an entertaining 3D re-release. The lighting, from projectors to headlights or flashlights, makes the film as aesthetically badass as a theme park of dinosaur clones. Camerawork, more than the plot itself, draws the audience in. Every shot motivates pulling attention somewhere. I loved it. I’ll watch it again, and more times after that.

OVERALL RATING: 3/4

Cinematography

Jeff Goldblum shinging bright like a diamond.

Jeff Goldblum shining bright like a diamond.

Nerdy filmmaker joke of the day: the dinosaurs aren’t the only ones drawn to the lights in Jurassic ParkDean Cundey is an amazing cinematographer when it comes to motivating light. Those turns of the camera, or slide-ins to perfect close-ups, couldn’t get any better. That one shot, where Sam Niell gets in the car then leaves after Tim bugs him is so simple yet so impressive.

While Cundey’s recent films are not up to par with his pre-2000s filmography, I appreciate the people who have variety in their cinematic careers. He even worked on Apollo 13Jurassic Park, and The Parent Trap in the same decade. As one of my favorite filmmakers, David Fincher, said, “Don’t be so pretentious that you think everything you make is ‘important.’ There’s room in this world for popcorn fiction and movies that are exactly the sum of their parts.” If nothing Cundey does in the future measures up to Jurassic Park, then fine, because that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still the guy who directed photography on Jurassic ParkThe Thing, and the Back to the Future trilogy.

Acting

Sam Neill is a loveable jerk and his partnering with a couple of kids is perfect because, well, at the start of the film he hates them. What better way for developing a character that can’t stand know-it-all kids then to throw them into some contained, jungle death trap together? Don’t those moments they watch giant dinosaurs attack tiny dinosaurs just tug at your heartstrings? The real bonding moment: finding out Tim’s dad didn’t build him a tree house either.

Work it, gurl.

Work it, gurl.

Jeff Goldblum’s the major source of comedic relief.  He’s the guy you want around when the prehistoric party gets a little too crazy. He knows how to break a leg and still partaaay, am I right? He’s loveable, he’s annoying, and he’s a great backseat driver.

Side note, let’s all take a moment of silence for Samuel L. Jackson.

K moving on…

Directing

I respect Spielberg for taking such insane concepts and making them incredibly believable. His job is selling the story and he always does. Another great Spielberg trademark is his lighting. Sure, that is all for the director of photography, but Spielberg works with different cinematographers (notably Kaminski), yet that light always streams through a room beautifully for any of his films. It illuminates people in a way that real life probably never does, which shows that no matter who is DP is, Spielberg should get a lot of credit for that as well. He also knows when there are some great kid actors lurking around. I don’t know what he’s putting in their candy but somehow… thespians! That man is the Willy Wonka for child actors. Did that make sense?

Writing

I’ll give it to Jurassic Park for a perfect blend of suspense and comedic timing, but apparently everything in Jurassic Park, while deadly, is also convenient enough for an escape. So don’t worry, you may get electrocuted at 10,000 volts and bleed out of your ears, but everything will be okay. The foreshadowing is so subtle and purposeful I could cry tears of joy, like Dr. Alan Grant’s buckling his seatbelt foreshadowing how the species later mutates like frogs. Still, remind me where major plants in the story went? No, I’m not talking about the plants that those “vegietarian” dinosaurs love eating, I mean that creepy embryo thing didn’t all go to waste now did it? Does this mean I need to see the other films? I mean I will, but I heard they’re not good so….

Score

Can we talk about John Williams? Look at what this man is musically responsible for: Star Wars, the Indiana Jones films, Jaws, Superman, Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, E.T., Schindler’s List, War Horse, Harry Potter, Catch Me If You Can, and Home Alone.

How does someone have this much talent? Do you think he has his soundtracks on his iTunes and listens to them when he wants to pretend he’s Indiana Jones on a horse with Lincoln fighting sharks from Superman’s galaxy far, far away, that can’t find their way home from a theme park in Nazi Germany until a bunch of bank-fraud, DiCaprio-Clone burglars show up then everything turns into this civil war which leads to this world war and Tom Hanks shows up telling him, “You’re a wizard, Harry,” but he’s like, “no, I’m John Williams and you’re welcome.” Like I just did there, he knows what building suspense is like, except he does it with music so that’s a lot cooler. His score tells you a story in itself, also like I just did because do you not get the point I’m making? There’s never a dull moment, even when things calm down. He has five Academy awards. This guy is amazing.