Published at: Feb. 2, 2007, 4:43 a.m. CST by Moriarty
Here’s one I wasn’t expecting.
First things first, it’s a terrible title. I get why someone might have thought it was clever or a fun way to title the film, but it doesn’t work. The film’s better than that title, better than just “clever.” It’s one of the most confident comedic debuts by a director since BOTTLE ROCKET, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that I got the same effervescent rush off of PUFFY CHAIR as I did off that first Wes Anderson film. This is an accomplished first film, and it doesn’t surprise me to learn that director Jay Duplass has been making short films with his brother Mark Duplass, who wrote the film and who also stars in it, for quite some time. They’ve got a clear voice in this movie, and that’s something that only happens as a filmmaker gains experience. This movie feels to me like something they’ve been itching to make for a while, a real calling card. All they’ve done so far is stake their flag, announce their intentions. And in doing so, they set their own personal bar fairly high.
THE PUFFY CHAIR is a road trip movie. You know... like LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Or SIDEWAYS. Or about a bajillion other movies, those just being two recent well-liked examples of the genre. Here, it’s all about Josh (Mark Duplass), a twenty-something guy who reminds me of a mix between Ron Livingston in ADAPTATION and Jim from the American version of THE OFFICE. He’s pretty tightly wound, and that’s no doubt due in part to having to deal with Emily (Kathryn Aselton), his little yappy Chihuahua of a girlfriend. She’s cute. Most of the time. But she’s also really clingy and needy and perhaps too intentionally perky. Most of the time. And Josh puts up with it because of the obvious benefits. He gets an idea when he sees an online listing for an easy chair that reminds him of the overstuffed monstrosity that his dad had when he was young. He decides to buy it for his father and use the occasion as an excuse to drive to pick it up, then drive it all the way to Atlanta in time for his father’s birthday. It’s a good plan. But when you add Rhett (Rhett Wilkins), Josh’s eccentric and unpredictable brother, into the mix and Emily decides to invite herself along for some quality Josh-time, things start to complicate themselves.
There’s a low-key comic energy to the film, but things are played real at every turn. That way, if Duplass wants to turn up the comedy, it’s easy, and if he wants to turn up the emotion, it’s always simmering. Josh’s temper is a real issue in the film, as is Rhett’s bizarre luck as he drifts through life, and nothing’s written for cheap laughs. The film’s shot in a pseudo-documentary style, but it works for the movie. Everything’s underplayed to just the right degree. All the people they encounter on their trip feel like real people in real small towns. There’s not a typical actor’s face in the film, not even the leads. Aselton and Mark Duplass have worked together before in some of the short films, and they have a very solid, very real chemistry together as a result. Rhett Wilkins is the wild card here, and he’s got a sweet, Reverend Jim Ignitowski vibe to him, blissed out and eternally open to opportunity. He is a great foil for both Aselton and Mark Duplass. There’s a strong indie rock soundtrack on the film, and they always feel like emotionally accurate choices instead of marketing friendly choices.
This is a little movie, but it’s worth your time to track it down. Honest, without pretension, expertly crafted, THE PUFFY CHAIR is the sort of film that gives indie cinema a good name.
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