I went into Beeswax apprehensive, and the first thirty minutes did little to allay my concerns. The story dragged; the acting started out questionably; the hyperrealistic script kept running into the problem that real-life conversations are often quite boring ("Well, she called last night, um...and I had come in a couple weeks ago...and I'm friends with her friend Evan...").
You can only hear so many "ums" and "ahs" before you start to yearn for the ghost of Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="260" caption="Tilly Hatcher as Jeannie"][/caption]
By halfway through, something had changed: I cared about protagonist Jeannie (solid debut performance by Tilly Hatcher); her trials and travails as co-owner of an independent business; her rekindling romance with likeable ex-boyfriend Merrill (Alex Karpovsky); and her rootless twin sister Lauren (Tilly's real-life sister Maggie Hatcher), who's looking to teach overseas mostly because she has nothing better to do.
I cared because director Andrew Bujalski* doesn't so much ask you to watch these people as invite you to hang out with them. He cares more about his characters and their context than about the notion of a "good plot."
Make no mistake: As casual and accidental as Beeswax may look, it's a deeply deliberate construction. First, it's shot on film, with clear dedication to color composition and sets that tell stories by themselves.
Second, the filler-word-packed script is in fact a meticulous product that captures a specific slice of contemporary society—that set of middle-class twenty-somethings trying to live their lives consciously and responsibly, and determine if it is indeed possible to "be both righteous and punctual."
Third, its protagonist, Jeannie, is a romantic lead in a wheelchair—but you barely notice. Bujalski navigates this minefield with a delicacy and matter-of-factness that proves his maturity as a filmmaker.
There's no denying that Beeswax has problems, and is a little bit annoying. It could have been lifted straight out of Stuff White People Like: Vintage store; Austin; brightly-dressed girls in polka-dots who look like aspiring Anthropologie models; a law student on a retro velour sofa in a 1992 Brown t-shirt studying for the bar on his Mac.
But after you spend an hour and a half with that law student and the people around him, I'll bet you might like him.
Plays at Northwest Film Forum tonight through Thursday at 7 & 9 PM.
*Perhaps I should have known to give Bujalski more credit, but I'm not the mumblecore aficionado that Josh claims to be.