Mumblecore is a 21st century, independent film movement. The filmmakers involved are quick to say they aren't part of any movement, and it's true that it is unorganized. Yet, in 2005, film journalists started to notice a group of unrelated men making movies that were very much similar.
Mumblecore consists of personal films made by 20-somethings about 20-somethings who are adrift in life. If you've heard of quarter-life crisis, that's what they all suffer. Mumblecore may be more a reaction to the affordability of movie-making technology. All are shot cheaply on digital video, and feature young people mostly talking, rambling, or often mumbling their way through lovelorn relationships.
Another decade may have to pass before we know if this movement has any weight, but so far it runs parallel to what happened in the 60s and 70s. Back then, many young filmmakers, some fresh out of film school, rejected the way Hollywood was making movies or what they were making them about. They instead followed the paths of European filmmakers' doing neo-realism.
Basically, they got tired of seeing movies that didn't reflect or represent them, so they decided to make films that did. Sometimes, it was literally films that represented them. Many of the mumblecore filmmakers star in their own movies and feature many of their friends.
Andrew Bujalski was the first mumblecore filmmaker to emerge. The 32-year-old from Boston has personally appeared in two of his films, and you can't help but think that there's a lot of personal reflection in his works. The tall and geeky-looking movie maker's debut film was Funny Ha Ha (2002).
Simply put, this movie is about Marnie and the men in her life. At the outset, Marnie, played by Kate Dollenmayer, tells a friend who is a programmer that she got fired from her job and is now just wandering the Earth.
Marnie has dinner with her college friends, all of who are either programmers or engineers. We get the sense that Marnie was on a similar, scientific track but got derailed. Now, she seems to walk and talk in a perpetual state of drunkenness.
Marnie represents a lot of Generation Y, which I'm sure consists of many college students either disillusioned or disinterested by the traditions of life amidst emerging technologies. Marnie has lost direction or stopped liking the direction she was going. She instead is floating through life.
As a result, she says she doesn't like commitments. She takes up a temp office job as a receptionist to bide her time. At first, her breezy lifestyle may be something to be desired. One friend comments that he likes her spontaneous nature.
It seems nice that she's not tied down by anything. She has nothing and isn't building anything permanent. What's funny here is that despite her nature that resists setting things in stone, deep down, Marnie DOES want something permanent.
It starts out with a small item like a tattoo, but quickly we learn that a staple she truly wants in her life is a boyfriend, particularly a boy named Alex, played by Christian Rudder, a musician and humorist who also appears in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Her efforts, or rather non-efforts, to get him don't go well.
Alex basically is the male equivalent to Marnie, which isn't good because he comes off as uninterested. Marnie talks with him as well as other friends in some of the funniest dialogue I've ever heard. The dialogue certainly doesn't sound written.
It's the most natural and yet awkward dialogue done. They even have what I call non-conversations. People try to be polite, but speak in broken sentences, walking on eggshells, sometimes blurting out random things. They try to make points but end up dancing around them. They ramble and mumble.
Marnie can't get what she wants so she dances around it too. This translates to her floating in and out of what I call non-relationships with several random guys she meets. One is her college friend. Second is a guy at a party, and the other is her co-worker at the temp job, a guy named Mitchell, played by Andrew Bujalski.
Marnie isn't a slut. She's just drifting, wandering as she says. This is a theme common in all the mumblecore movies. Bujalski continued his exploration of it in his follow-up, Mutual Appreciation (2005).
In that film, Bujalski plays Lawrence, a teacher whose girlfriend Ellie develops feelings for their mutual roommate, Alan, the leader of a band. No one in this movie claims to be wandering the Earth, but Ellie claims to wonder about kissing people on her periphery despite being in a relationship.
Alan is adrift as well. He's not as aimless as Marnie, but there are certainly times when he floats, where Alan doesn't know where he's going. He just goes with the flow. Bujalski will edit scenes often ending on unanswered questions, as if he wants the moviegoers to feel adrift with Alan.
Most often, his scenes are filled with rambling dialogue or awkward silences, shot with a simple Woody Allen-like, black-and-white aesthetic.
A year following this film, Todd Rohal, a mumblecore filmmaker who recently graduated from Ohio University, came out with Guatemalan Handshake (2006). It played at several film festivals before being released on DVD. Whereas Bujalski's movies focused on one or two people adrift, Rohal had a whole town filled with adrift people, including a little girl left adrift after her friend disappears as well as a middle-aged woman left adrift after reading her own obituary.
Kentucky-born and University of Memphis grad Kentucker Audley is the mumblecore movie-maker who most resembles Bujalski. His film Team Picture (2007) essentially echoes Funny Ha Ha, only the main character, played by Audley himself, is male.
Audley plays David, a college-age guy living in Memphis. Of all the mumblecore characters, David is probably the most adrift. At his girlfriend's art exhibit, he's asked what he is or what he does, and David can't answer.
In a breakup, better than, if not parallel to, the one that begins Forgetting Sarah Marshall, David is left further adrift. He's not sure how to handle situations. He just agrees with what the people in his life say, even if they are things he doesn't want, like a breakup.
Aaron Katz, a mumblecore director from Portland, Oregon, did Quiet City (2007). He shot it on a HVX using P2 cards with no permits on the streets of Brooklyn.
Impressing a lot at the South by Southwest Film Festival, and possibly being the precursor to Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, it follows two adrift, college-age youngsters, a guy and a girl who meet in the subway and end up spending the whole night and even next day together. They do so by basically wandering New York.
Joe Swanberg plays one of the friends visited by the couple. Swanberg, next to Bujalski, is one of the most prolific of the mumblecore makers.
Swanberg stunned film festival audiences with his debut Kissing on the Mouth (2005). If you remember Larry Clark's Kids, this movie could be considered a companion piece, only about 20-somethings instead of teenagers.