2½ stars (out of four)
"Mutual Appreciation" is a realistic comic movie about a raffish young Boston singer-composer named Alan (Justin Rice) and his erratic (and sometimes erotic) adventures after he moves to New York and his band breaks up. And though what follows may sometimes seem like a too-obvious wish-fulfillment youth fantasy about crashing the big-city scene, writer-director-actor-editor Andrew Bujalski--who made the well-regarded "Funny Ha Ha" (2002)--has a flair for casual naturalism and dialogue to match. He and the cast make it work.
"Mutual Appreciation," shot on grainy black-and-white 16 mm film that irresistibly recalls John Cassavetes' "Shadows" and "Faces," is simultaneously artless-appearing and smartly artful. It's also shrewder than it first looks. Bujalski, who plays Alan's congenitally tolerant best friend, Lawrence, knows his characters very well: young urban East Coasters who are pretty smart but who haven't quite grown up, because they haven't had to.
So the self-absorbed Alan wanders from bedroom to music club in search of new bandmates, gigs and a toehold in the fringe rock scene, looking like a shaggy alternative-pop urchin. He also engages in unarousing sexual adventures, including a fling with blase radio interviewer Sara (Seung-Min Lee) who finds him a drummer, and a near-fling with Lawrence's tougher-minded journalist girlfriend Ellie (Rachel Clift).
But, though Alan has Lothario potential, he's not energetic enough to be a cad. Bujalski is focused here less on sexual fantasy than on real people who over-intellectualize romance and lust. When Lawrence is obligingly pulled into a dramatic project in which male writers read aloud from women's texts--or when Alan wanders into a sparsely attended party where three young ladies talk him into an impromptu drag act--it's a sly satire of sexual politics and hedonism in the post-feminist era.
I underrated this movie when mini-reviewing it for the 2005 Chicago Film Festival--perhaps because I was fooled by its casual, rough surface, but also because I didn't much like either Alan or Ellie. The cast made them seem too real. (Rice is actually a pop singer-composer and Clift a sometime filmmaker).
That was my problem, though. "Mutual Appreciation" not only knows its characters; it knows its cinema. The film's mood and style are pitched somewhere between '60s American indie and French New Wave and, as you watch these people, they seem painfully, amusingly on-target. They may irritate you a little, but that's the right response.
Directed, written and edited by Andrew Bujalski; photographed by Matthias Grunsky; songs by Justin Rice and Kevin Micka, Bishop Allen, Common Cold, others; produced by Ethan Vogt, Morgan Faust, Dia Sokol. A Goodbye Cruel Releasing release; opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre. Running time: 1:49. No MPAA rating. Parents cautioned for language and discussions of drug use and sexuality.
Alan - Justin Rice
Ellie - Rachel Clift
Lawrence - Andrew Bujalski
Sara - Seung-Min Lee
Dennis - Kevin Micka
Walter - Bill MorrisonCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times