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FUNNY HA HA (NR) (2003)

Goodbye Cruel Releasing

Official Site

Director: Andrew Bujalski

Producer: Ethan Vogt

Written by: Andrew Bujalski

Cast: Kate Dollenmayer, Christian Rudder, Jennifer L. Schaper, Andrew Bujalski


When Andrew Bujalski (jump to interview) finished making Funny Ha Ha in 2001, he couldn’t get anyone to watch it. So, after frustrating rejections from many festivals, he parlayed good word-of-mouth and used it to take the film on the road, showing it in small venues. His self-distribution paid off when, finally, two of the film’s biggest fans established a company for the exclusive purpose of distributing this one film. The film has spent three years going from completion to national distribution, but it seems longer. Shot on nervous 16mm (as opposed to the nearly de rigueur, and far cheaper, video in use in a majority of indie films) and full of talky characters who never natter about pop culture, it seems more like a product of the early ’90s than anything in step with current trends.

Bujalski follows Marnie (Dollenmayer), a post-grad attempting to establish herself in adult life. Over the film’s short running time, she has little success: She nurses a crush which is revealed in an excruciatingly awkward fashion, and once it’s revealed, her crush gets married. She temps at an agency, only to attract the unwanted geeky attentions of Mitchell (Bujalski) and many attendant awkward afternoons of tense, expectant hanging out. She’s poised, but awkward and unsure, and the film follows suit.

Little happens in Funny Ha Ha besides tiny, almost imperceptible shifts in where the characters stand in relation to each other. The dialogue is full of the awkward interjections of daily speech, all “um”s and “you know”s; the lighting is rough and unvarnished. No one connects with the right person at the right time, and everyone’s unsatisfied with his or her station in life. Some will find the film’s indeterminacy irritating; as unsettled as its characters, it can seem startlingly shambolic. But Funny Ha Ha, like the work of Richard Linklater, is rigor disguised as casualness; nothing is revealed accidentally, or cheaply (despite the rough lighting and primitive editing). Instead of big dramatic confrontations, we get the stuff of daily life, the quiet moments that reveal more than noisy, self-aggrandizing drama.

It’s the kind of film that can garner startling loyalty, and viewer reaction may depend, in large part, on how well you can relate to the characters and their plights. Those not prone to emotional neuroses or frustrating, self-hampering inarticulacy may well be annoyed by the stasis. It’s the command of small specifics, however, that makes the film what it is. While a more eloquently made film might be nice, this one does exactly what it needs to, i.e., illuminate the permanent emotional dilemmas of the unfulfilled and overeducated young. The film’s glory is its most excruciating moments.

—Vadim Rizov

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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