Never been to a film festival? Curious about what you'd find there aside from the handful of studio flicks included solely to raise the fest's "buzz profile"? Got a strong tolerance for exceedingly low-budget, frequently improvised, and hand-held romantic drama? No? Then you'll want to avoid movies like Funny Ha Ha, but, on the other hand, maybe you could stand a little horizon-broadening these days -- and I say Andrew Bujalski's strange little indie could be a good place to start.
Debut feature by Mr. Bujalski (he's since gone on to direct Mutual Appreciation), Funny Ha Ha takes some time to get rolling, I'll admit. At first the film seems to be an entirely aimless and somewhat listless story about an ambitionally-challenged young woman named Marnie who harbors romantic feelings for an old pal who just broke up with his girlfriend. Much of Funny Ha Ha consists of barroom chats, living room conversations, and workplace blatherings. If Bujalski's goal was to create a "you are there (and eavesdropping)" sort of narrative, he's done a fine job of it.
Marnie bounces through a variety of jobs, drinking sessions, and go-nowhere temp jobs, all the while trying to figure out the direction her romantic life should take. In most movies, a girl wants a specific guy and the movie ends when the guy is hers, but here our lead character doesn't seem to know what she wants.
The whole thing feels a lot like, y'know, everyday normal people chatting away about fairly mundane things. But it's this approach that gradually begins to grow on you; the reality of the characters and situations begins to feel as familiar as your next-door neighbor; It's not so much that their lives are endlessly juicy and exciting -- but you still want to hear the gossip all the same.
Certainly not for all tastes, particularly if you're the sort on a strict diet of non-stop multiplex fare, but those who appreciate grass-roots indie-flicks with no patience for flash or pretense, I believe that Funny Ha Ha might just hit you on a personal level, and you'll find yourself sucked in to Marnie's mild misadventures with very little effort.
Video: The film is presented in its original Fullscreen format, with plenty of indie-grain and the requisite low-budget shortcomings, but none that intrude too badly, and certainly nothing that'll ruin the movie for you.
Audio: An overloud 2.0 track; Be sure to crank that volume down before hitting play!
Extras: There's an audio commentary that's labeled as "an outside perspective from a Russian scholar," which is suitably offbeat and different, a portrait gallery by Lissa Patton Rudder, a radio play phone conversation that feels like an extended scene from the film, the original Funny Ha Ha theatrical trailer, and a trailer gallery focusing on films like Palindromes, In the Realms of the Unreal, Nina's Tragedies, Tarnation, Strings, Kings & Queen, Dear Wendy, and The Beat That My Heart Skipped.
I'll admit that it was Kate Dollenmayer's completely and strangely natural performance that kept me watching through Funny Ha Ha's formative scenes, but I'm glad I stuck with the film. Those who crave a little indie flick roughage between their multiplex main courses should absolutely consider this one worthy of a weekend rental. But be a little patient with this one, movie fans.