Monday Movies Can No Longer Treat You with Carelessness
“Mumblecore” is a perfect name for the genre it describes, because the people in it speak haltingly and are the kind of people who append “-core” to genres. Everyone who makes mumblecore movies hates the name, which is fine. A mumblecore movie features young people, mostly white, momentarily fallen out of affluence but not of cultural capital, inarticulate because they are trying to express difficult things and are too wary of clichés. Where Jane Espenson warns against glib dialogue, they banish it as an axiom.
Mumblecore poses the question, “what would Dogme 95 be like without the humorlessness?” The answer is watchable but not necessary. Hannah Takes the Stairs was ostensibly directed by Joe Swanberg, but the credits read “A Film By Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig, Kent Osborne, Andrew Bujalski, Ry Russo-Young, Mark Duplass, Todd Rohal and Kevin Brewersdorf.” Bujalski and Duplass are also noted mumblecore directors; Bujalski spends much of his interview time explaining that he doesn’t actually let his actors improvise, although the others follow Mike Leigh’s lead in constructing films with their actors from improvisations off sketched scenarios. Swanberg’s next movie Silver Bullets “features an astonishing and troubling mask scene that, once viewed, isn’t likely to be forgotten,” according to Richard Brody at the New Yorker film blog.
The characters in Hannah Takes the Stairs speak like writers, in the sense that I have a face made for radio. They know their intentions are complex but impure; they know their language is inadequate to their thoughts and they are not hopeful that the description of their desires will illuminate the course of righteous action. (The author of Awkwardness is invited to hypothesize.) Hannah, played by Greta Gerwig, tires quickly of her boyfriends, but doesn’t know it yet, though she’s self-aware enough to tell one target “I leave destruction in my wake.” Hannah‘s strength is in its subject matter, a romantic triangle that upsets a friendship, and Gerwig’s performance, vulnerable and closed off, mumbly and deep.
Greta Gerwig’s performances are valuable instruction in the difference between nakedness and nudity. She appears naked with each of her lovers — showering or getting dressed with one, waking up in the shirt of another and giving it back, sitting in the bathtub with the third. Her nakedness is more than matter-of-fact, it’s depleted of erotic charge, as if sex is one more too-familiar vocabulary that she’s giving up upon. (My cob-logger and I have argued about this.) The most erotic shot of her is in panties and a bra, fighting a heat wave by lying in front of a fan, next to her roommate but mostly alone. It’s also the most traditionally scopophilic shot in the film, lingering on her pelvis. Most of the shots of her naked with her lovers show her full body and face.
Below the fold, an illustration, technically NSFW but very sweet.
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