Funny Ha Ha

It begins unceremoniously, with a lonesome young lady drifting into a tattoo shop. The artist won’t ink her, it turns out, because she’s a little drunk—and besides, she simply doesn’t know what she wants. Or so she says. The camera stays receptive to her; she’s about 23 or so, slender and delicate, and it’s clear at once that she’ll be the center of the movie’s attention. It’s her story, even if there’s no story to speak of. And, really, there isn’t.

Sure, she has other decisions to make—about which temp job to take, or whom to make friends with, or whether the guy she likes actually is available or just messing with her head. Or maybe he simply doesn’t know what he wants. You can see where Andrew Bujalski’s 2002 feature debut is going—in loose, loopy circles, mostly—and how, without even seeming to try, it might seriously charm or infuriate you. Or both.

To call Bujalski an heir to Cassavetes and Leigh and Linklater isn’t wrong, but it might unfairly imply a too-diluted style. You’re right to worry about whether this is one of those pieces that seems just unpretentious enough to actually be pretentious. Not really; it’s subtle is all, about nailing the slouchy, shambling ambivalence by which obviously intelligent, obviously educated people go out of their way to remain inarticulate. Trading impulsive, inscrutable manipulations and mixed messages, they talk themselves out of what they want by talking themselves out of knowing what it is.

Bujalski has made it seem like film history wouldn’t be complete without proper service to the quotidian rhythms of post-college life among white, relatively privileged Boston-area 20-somethings. Those of us who recognize ourselves in the Funny Ha Ha world must try very hard not to gush with gratitude—but it’s OK, we’re cool; after all, as the filmmaker reminds us, reticent solipsism still is what we’re all about.