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FUNNY HA HA (director/writer: Andrew Bujalski; cinematographer: Matthias Grunsky; editor: Andrew Bujalski; music: Bishop Allen; cast: Kate Dollenmayer (Marnie), Christian Rudder (Alex), Myles Paige (Dave), Jennifer L. Schaper (Rachel), Andrew Bujalski (Mitchell), Mark Herlehy (tattoo artist), Marshall Lewy (Wyatt), Lissa Patton Rudder (Susan), Vanessa Bertozzi (Nina), Victoria Haggblom (Jackie), Thomas Hansen (Prof. Garver); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ethan Vogt; Goodbye Cruel Releasing; 2003)
“A pitch-perfect romantic comedy slice of life film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This low-budget indie film by twenty-six-year-old Harvard grad director/writer/editor Andrew Bujalski is a scream. It’s a pitch-perfect romantic comedy slice of life film that gets inside the heads of its slacker twentysomething subjects and keeps things moving in a natural way that adds to the charm of the genuine landscape created. Bujalski makes his debut feature a gem, using in a low-key way a wonderful nonprofessional cast. He shot it on-location in Boston on 16 mm film. It covers the haphazard doings of the aimless 24-year-old slacker Marnie (Kate Dollenmayer, previously worked as an animator on Richard Linklater’s Waking Life).

The film opens with recent college grad Marnie (Kate Dollenmayer) getting turned down by a tattoo artist because she might regret making such a permanent decision in her inebriated state. From here on our heroine winds up with only temporary jobs and less than desirable ephemeral relationships, and has trouble communicating with her many slacker friends how she feels. After Marnie is canned for asking for a raise, she takes a typing temp job. After chatting with the seemingly perfect couple Dave and Rachel, friends from college, Marnie drops the hint that she likes former college friend Alex (Christian Rudder, member of the Brooklyn band Bishop Allen). Informed that he just broke up with his girlfriend Nina, Marnie awkwardly defers being set up on a date with him by his sister Susan. Alex calls anyway, but he’s a strange bird to figure and their relationship is not only awkward but leads her to be further depressed when he suddenly marries Nina without even dropping a hint. On the rebound from this failure and after quitting her miserable temp job to work for a professor as a researcher, she makes a to-do list (complete with little check boxes) that has items on it such as “go outside more,” “learn to play chess” and “make friends with Jackie (her research boss).” She goes to a Japanese restaurant with the nervous and insecure temp worker she had just met–Mitchell (played by the director)–and it turns out to be agonizingly awkward. What she is doing with him makes no sense, since she has no romantic feelings for the charmless nerdy guy and has no common interests for a friendship, but it gives way to more very funny awkward scenes of playing basketball and chess with someone who is manipulative and always apologizing for being a clod, and their afternoon romp ends in a queasy hostile way despite their efforts to be on their best behavior.

The inarticulate and unassuming heroine can’t make contact with others despite all her efforts to converse with friends, go out to dinner with them and attend parties. Marnie goes through a series of drunken conversations, flirtatious encounters, and personal misapprehensions, and comes out of it in the same foggy way she first began–still unable to make the transition from college life to being an adult.

It’s a smart film that comes with an abrupt ending in the middle of an absurd conversation, as the engagingly sympathetic heroine is just locked into another meaningless conversation and really has nothing to say. Bujalski always keeps his eye on the squirmy situation at hand and has a good ear for the nervous chatter between friends while catching all the nuances of slacker angst in a most refreshing way. It does for awkward comedy what Jerry Lewis attempted in his slapstick nerdy characterizations, but couldn’t make it as piercingly real or meaningful as it’s done here without the use of physical antics.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”