Amid a sea of bombastic summer films, one might wonder if there are any movies being released this season that even remotely resemble real life, with real people dealing with normal problems in a relatable way that’s also entertaining.
Surprisingly, there are a few quieter films out now that don’t rely on battling aliens for their entertainment value.
Unfortunately, two of those films are too quiet, and focus on people you wouldn’t want to relate to in the real world. “Lola Versus” and “Your Sister’s Sister” are the latest examples of “mumblecore,” a genre that started about five or six years ago in which filmmakers with super-micro-budgets film barely-constructed stories about slackers, using themselves and their friends as the casts for the most part.
“Lola” and “Sister” each features a breakout star from the genre, at least if you can consider being a breakout star as earning a real paycheck and having a big studio put your movie out. “Lola” stars Greta Gerwig, a beautiful young comic actress who is the “it girl” of mumblecore yet has managed to snag slightly larger films like Ben Stiller’s “Greenberg” and Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress.”
“Sister,” meanwhile, stars the fairly big actress Emily Blunt (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “The Adjustment Bureau”) with Mark Duplass as the male lead. Duplass is one half of the sibling directing team known as the Duplass brothers, along with his brother, Jay. While the two have written and directed a number of mumblecore films, they’ve had a couple of art house breakthroughs with “Cyrus” (my favorite film of 2010) and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” (which I liked even better upon its release this spring.)
The key to the Duplass breakthrough was casting recognizable stars that put the films on movie goers' radar screens, as “Cyrus” featured Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei, while “Jeff” starred Jason Segel, Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon.
The Duplasses are definitely on a fast-rising career arc, but Mark Duplass is also acting a lot in indie films. In "Your Sister’s Sister” he plays a guy named Jack whose brother died a year before, leaving him shaken and largely alone. When he offers the unvarnished truth about his late sibling at a memorial a year later, his friend Iris (Blunt) offers him the use of her family’s retreat cabin deep in the woods.
What he hasn’t been told is that Iris’s lesbian sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is also in the cabin and is nursing a few problems of her own. They have sex after a serious night of drinking, in part, to satisfy her curiosity about how straight-world sex is. When Iris arrives, they have to decide whether to hide their involvement or put it out there.
That’s pretty much the entire story: three people who wind up in a cabin with occasionally amusing dialogue and strong performances, but nothing much going on. Even at just 90 minutes, it feels that director Lynn Shelton (who previously directed Duplass in “Humpday,” in which two straight male friends debate making a gay porn film together in order to win a prize at an extreme film fest – trust me, no one who reads this will like THAT film) is padding for time. There are seemingly endless glimpses of the beauty of nature and some really long and pointless bike-riding montages of Duplass pedaling his angst away.
But most maddening is the fact that “Your Sister’s Sister” doesn’t even resolve itself, taking a potentially meaty relationship situation and a comedic exploration of how we deal with grief - and ultimately going nowhere with it. If a filmmaker’s going to ask viewers to spend 10 bucks or more at the theater to see their film, they should at least have the courtesy to concoct an ending to it.
Meanwhile, “Lola” is more consistently funny and amusing but nearly as maddening in its resolution. Gerwig's Lola reveals in the opening moments that she’s 29 and the planet Saturn is making a relatively close path with the earth, one she fears may affect her astrological forecasts and whether it will upend a very happy life in which she’s engaged and preparing her wedding.
Well, surprise surprise, things do take a sudden turn for the worse. Lola’s fiancé dumps her in the proverbial search for “space,” and she’s suddenly thrust out into the dating world with no sexual experience except through him, since they fell in love in college years before. Now she’s back in the dating pool for the first time as an adult and wants to maintain some decency, since she’s emotionally raw and also to avoid STDs.
But when her own father, a hippie-ish guy played by a really old-looking Bill Pullman, tells her that even he and her mom had lots of casual sex in the ‘70s before getting married, she starts to loosen her standards. While she never becomes as big a tramp as the “Sex and the City” ladies, she suddenly finds herself hooking up with a couple of unexpected guys and finds her life getting complicated.
Of these two films, “Lola” is wittier, has more zip in its pacing and offers some fun New York City locations that keep things fun to watch for those who like Woody Allen-style comedies. But despite having the luminous Gerwig and her charmingly spacey line readings, some of the cast – especially the guys she’s having flings with, and especially her ex – are truly annoying.
If you’ve wondered where metrosexuals slinked off to after their movement died in the water, here’s your answer: they’re living in Lola’s neighborhood, and they make you want to punch them in the hopes that they’ll produce a single drop of testosterone.
For those looking for arty fare that’s not bombastic, check out “Bernie” or “Headhunters” or the “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” You might find “Lola” worth a look on DVD someday, but don’t bother checking out “Sister.”