A few years ago it was "Hump Day", and this year Filmfest München has brought us not one but two films with Mark Duplass starring. The New Orleans native has become a bit of an independent film celebrity, if there is such a thing, and is considered one of the originators of mumblecore. It has never been clear to me if mumblecore was first intended as some sort of insult, but these films from the early 2000's had obscenely low budgets and sometimes frustratingly indecipherable dialogue. Hence the "mumble" in mumblecore.
Colin Trevorrow's "Safety Not Guaranteed" and Lynn Shelton's "Your Sister's Sister" are quite funny and simultaneously rather curious. The only thing that ties them together is Mark Duplass. Once you have seen one of his films, you can see why he is so sought after. It's high time that Mark Duplass was invited to take part in Filmfest München already.
"Your Sister's Sister" came out in 2011, and apparently mumblecore has grown up. To be honest, this is probably what any hipster would call a sell-out. All the things that make independent films authentic and true are traded in for a love story and a happy ending. But I do not buy that. Especially not in this case.
The director Lynn Shelton, who also wrote the script for "Your Sister's Sister", was also responsible for the above-mentioned "Hump Day". The newer film's story is just ridiculous enough to quiet down that disgruntled hipster. Jack, played by Mark Duplass, is encouraged by his best friend Iris, who Emily Blunt plays beautifully, to escape the hustle of the big city. She insists that he go to her father's cabin on an island on Puget Sound, where he can reassess his life and recharge his batteries.
Only when he arrives, does Jack find Iris' sister Hannah, played by Rosemarie DeWitt, who is drowning her sorrows in a bottle of tequila after a messy breakup. After an evening of candid, drunken conversation, Jack and Hannah find themselves a little closer than either of them intended. All of this is further complicated when Iris arrives unexpectedly the next morning.
This is a study in sibling relationships that also strain the limits of friendship. The twists of the plot, as well as the sweet anticipation of whether Jack or Hannah would spill the beans to Iris about their drunken escapade, keep the viewer riveted to the screen. Some of the moments are bittersweet, but they are never maudlin.
The opening of the film has a party scene with a few unforgettable moments between Mark Duplass' Jack and Mike Birbiglia, whose voice you might recognise from Chicago Public Radio's 'This American Life'. When "Your Sister's Sister" eventually makes it to German screens, you should really check it out.
Just thinking about "Safety not Guaranteed" makes me smile. The director Colin Trevorrow was in Munich to present the film, despite the fact that his wife was nearby in France expecting to deliver their newest baby. If the reception of the audience is anything to go by, this film will be quite a success.
The premise of the film is based on a true life classified ad that ran in 1997 in Backwoods Home Magazine, which read:
(block quote) "Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED." (end block quote)
Just imagine the editorial staff of a small Seattle weekly magazine frantically searching for content, and they happen upon this bizarre story. Three of them go off in search of whoever placed the ad, and to say hilarity ensues would be an understatement. If you do not watch American television, you can be forgiven for not knowing who Aubrey Plaza is. Apparently, there is a hugely popular show called "Parks and Recreation" in which she has some significant part. In "Safety Not Guaranteed" she plays Darius Britt, who has never really fit in much of anywhere in her relatively young life.
Her boss and her fellow intern are along for the ride, but for some reason Darius is able to win the confidence of the time traveller ad's creator. Kenneth, played by our hero Mark Duplass, is immediately shown in a bit of a deranged light. The film lets you watch Darius slowly let her guard down, as she considers whether Kenneth is not quite as mad as he first appears.
Before the film, the director said a few words by way of introduction. He insisted that the film was partially about, "Very high confidence levels without much to back it up." Clearly, the viewer wants to reject the very possibility of time travel outright. This guy must be insane. End of story. Nevertheless, Mark Duplass does such a marvellous job of selling this character that you find yourself desperately wanting to believe he is not simply a crackpot.
It turns out the ending still was not clear to the cast up until the premiere at Sundance. Imagine showing up to see the film you are appearing in and being completely dumbfounded by what has been done. The Boston, Massachusetts band Guster provided much of the film's music, and a highlight was a zither tune written by their singer and guitarist Ryan Miller.
Tevorrow also stated that there was a little bit of King Kong in the story, as well. The girl becomes enamoured with the beast, in this case the guy who insists he can time travel, and while that story is going on, the two guys she comes with are having never ending adventures. Are some of the jokes a little too obvious? Possibly. Does it detract from the film in the least? It does not. Not at all.