Until about a year ago, I had never heard the term “mumblecore” so if it’s foreign to you too, don’t worry. Odds are, you’ve still seen a couple of notable films from this indie sub-genre. With a rise in popularity in independent films, mumblecore has also gained popularity. A mumblecore film, at its most basic is a lot of talking – and a lot of awkward talking at that. These films often have low production value, and inexperienced actors, to create a naturalistic vibe.
Writer/director Andrew Bujalski is thought of as the Godfather of mumblecore. His film Funny Ha Ha is often considered to be the first mumblecore film – even though he never intended it to be the beginning of a new sub-genre. Other people associated with the genre are Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister), the Duplass Brothers (Baghead, The Puffy Chair), Ry Russo-Young (You Won’t Miss Me), Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs), and to some extent, Lena Dunham with her pre-Girls film, Tiny Furniture.
Mumblecore films always strike an emotional cord with me. They are so intensely personal, and tackle the insecurities we all face – within ourselves and within our relationships with others. Because of their stripped down productions, mumblecore films allow for purely authentic characters, situations, and feelings. Improvisation often plays a big part in the genre. Actors have freedom to figure out their characters along the way, so reactions and dialogue can be organic and truthful. Arguably, to improvise well, there must be a level of security and trust among those improvising, so I find it endlessly fascinating that mumblecore films are usually confronting the exact opposite: our neurotic and self-doubting insecurities. I find it to be a nice and comforting dichotomy – as if mumblecore films are a safe place to work out those neurotic and self-doubting insecurities.
Some people may find mumblecore films to be tiresome, or perhaps boring. These films, after all, are about the small moments in everyday life, and who wants to see that played out on screen? But I’d argue that there is something immensely satisfying about relating to who and what you see – or to say, “I had that exact conversation last week!” – while at the movie theatre, or in bed watching Netflix (of course, I am speaking from a white, North American 20-something’s perspective – the lack of diversity in this sub-genre is a whole other topic.) Nonetheless, no one is Hollywood gorgeous, and it’s never a Hollywood fairy tale. As in real life, things go unresolved, and there are questions unanswered, but hey, at least we’re in it together, right? Sure, it’s sometimes uncomfortable to confront life head on, but there’s also a power and catharsis in it.
Undoubtedly, there will always be a place for escapist cinema – by its very definition, that is what cinema is. But over in the corner, at your local repertoire cinema, there will be a mumblecore film, or some other variation of the “talky” genre. I urge you to seek these films out, because I’d like to think that some of the best and most valuable art stems from truth and honesty.
MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE