Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Many critics have speculated on the meaning of this film's title. The idea of a hive fits well with director Bujalski's take on the interconnectedness of lives, but it's worth remembering that beeswax doesn't hold the bees themselves together, just the structures they inhabit. This carefully played comedy sees characters buzz around each other whilst a network of words and expectations, often subtly misunderstood, seems to bind them to mutually frustrating situations.

Tilly Hatcher is Jeannie, the part-owner of a small but securely established vintage clothing store. Unfortunately relations with her business partner, the largely absent Amanda (Anne Dodge) have been gradually disintegrating, with both feeling unable to discuss concerns that might once have been worked out amicably, Fearing that Amanda is going to sue her for control of the store, Jeannie turns to ex-boyfriend Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), a law student who consistently fails to study and pass his bar exam but who is right there when needed, apparently requiring a crisis in order to focus and function usefully.

Copy picture

Meanwhile, her sister Lauren (played by her real life twin Maggie) is struggling to commit to a possible future teaching abroad, and orbits at a distance, always on the verge of saying something important but never quite getting there. It's presented as a microcosm of American life and the message seems to be that enormous potential is wasted because people don't know how to talk either to each other or to themselves, but at the same time Jeannie comes across as a strong character and there's a certain beauty in the way all of these people fit together, like tesselated hexagons.

Despite this, Bujalski fans may be disappointed - the film has neither the wit nor the energy of earlier films like Mutual Appreciation. Thrust into the middle of these characters' lives we can easily believe that they're real (though all the actors are amateurs), but they come across like the sort of friends one might see occasionally and never really get to know very closely. Bujalski's knack for eliding the real meaning of their utterances risks making the viewer, too, feel excluded. It's refreshing to see a film in which a wheelchair user is presented as just another human being - with a sex life too, something filmmakers often seem to overlook when it comes to disabled characters - but that doesn't really compensate for the lack of a real hook to any of the characters. There's a danger that the viewer will wonder why they should care.

If you have been frustrated by Bujalski's earlier mumblecore work, however, you may be pleasantly surprised by his step away from that here. He's retained very naturalistic dialogue (though on reflection it's clearly carefully contrived) and he shows an understanding of the mechanics of conversation which, one hopes, will inform much more interesting future work. Beeswax just isn't quite there yet.

Reviewed on: 15 Apr 2010
Share this with others on...
Two twins face choices as they reach adulthood.
Amazon link

Director: Andrew Bujalski

Writer: Andrew Bujalski

Starring: Tilly Hatcher, Maggie Hatcher, Alex Karpovsky, Katy O'Connor, David Zellner, Kyle Henry, S.J. Anderson, Anne Dodge, Betty Blackwell, Bryan Poyser

Year: 2009

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: US


BIFF 2009
London 2009

Search database:

If you like this, try: