Mutual Appreciation

Mutual Appreciation


Reviewed by: Sarah Artt

Sara: “You seem nervous”

Alan: “No, I just have this congenital tremor”

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The above exchange sets the tone for Mutual Appreciation, the story of the slightly fumbling romantic encounters of Alan (Justin Rice) an indie rock singer who has recently relocated from Boston to Williamsburg Brooklyn in search of greater musical prospects. Alan quickly restablishes contact with his old friend Lawrence (Andrew Bujalski) and Lawrence's girlfriend Ellie (Rachel Clift) and soon finds himself drawn into an easy, convivial friendship with the couple. Things become awkward when Alan and Ellie begin to realise their attraction to one another, while Lawrence remains somewhat oblivious.

There are many wonderful scenes in Mutual Appreciation and this is due entirely to the charmingly low-key cast and Bujalski's clever script. In the scenes where Alan and Ellie lie on a bed together, the sexual tension is so palpable but also so congenial you really can't decide whether you want them to get together or not. It's a real accomplishment to see that kind of chemistry captured on film, particuarly as it feels so real and is entirely different from that other kind of on-screen chemistry, the kind where the intensity of a look can burn up the screen.

I also particularly love those moments in American independent films like Mutual Appreciation where the girl comes out of a guy's bedroom the next morning and introduces herself to whatever flatmate or family member is there. Maggie Gyllenhaal does this in Don Roos's Happy Endings: “Hi I'm Jude, I'm with Otis,” she says to Otis's father. The woman in these movies is always tremendously casual about her presence, blasé even. There is never a note of shame or sordidness and she never acts as if she is about to be judged. It's a subtle shift in the cinematic image of sexual equality, but significant nonetheless. In the case of Mutual Appreciation, the male flatmate graciously offers Ellie coffee, but she declines, saying she has things to do. With this sequence, Bujalski ruptures one of the great cliches of the romantic comedy in a way that is both touching and refreshingly grown up.

In terms of characterisation, Mutual Appreciation is nuanced, dispensing with the expected caricature-like traits and behaviours normally deployed by romantic comedies. While Alan's attraction to Ellie is the predominant focus of the story, Lawrence is no villain and therefore it's never a clear cut case of the charms of the intellectual versus the artist, with Ellie as the indecisive but highly desirable woman. The characters do overarticulate their emotions, but rather than being a symptom of neurosis this is very much a shared method of communication between Alan, Ellie and Lawrence. Where Woody Allen's male characters use their intellectualism to inspire awe in women, Bujalski's male characters never condescend to Ellie, even though she confides to Allan that she is sometimes intimidated by Lawrence's references to subjects she knows little about.

Mutual Appreciation is an indie comedy reminiscent of the early work of both Jim Jarmusch and Woody Allen, with delightful performances from its three protagonists. In addition to his fine acting performance as Lawrence, Bujalski has also penned a witty script and turns in some accomplished directing in his sophmore effort. Bujalski does depict the lives of an educated elite (other critics have made apt comparisons with the work of Whit Stillman) but he's attempting to do so in a way that's amusing, and that captures the oddities of day to day life. If he keeps this up, his work could easily come to rank alongside Allen's Manhattan and Annie Hall and Whit Stillman's Metropolitan.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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Mutual Appreciation packshot
A young musician struggles with his attraction to his best friend's girlfriend.
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Director: Andrew Bujalski

Writer: Andrew Bujalski

Starring: Justin Rice, Rachel Clift, Andrew Bujalski, Seung-Min Lee, Pamela Corkey, Kevin Micka

Year: 2005

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: US


EIFF 2006

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