If you were to describe the ingredients and style of Daniel Schechter’s Supporting Characters, a kind of ready-for-primetime offering from that amorphous, NYC/mumblecore/Dunham/Apatow community, it may strike one as the kind of thing you’d cross the street to avoid. But Supporting Characters glides from a mildly off-putting opening across several scenes that waver between sitcom superficiality and sudden, unexpected gusts of feeling, ultimately ending on a note of perfectly judged emotional ambivalence that’s almost worthy of a season-ending episode of Mad Men.
Concerning the lives and loves of two editors as they make the final trims, fixes, and deletions on an indie comedy feature, Supporting Characters is a modest affair, shot on high-definition digital video around a small set of Manhattan apartments, city streets, and postproduction facilities. Darryl (Tarik Lowe, who co-wrote the script with Schechter) and Nick (the ubiquitous Alex Karpovsky) work overlapping shifts while attempting to keep their respective girlfriends (Melonie Diaz and Sophia Takal). On the fringes, the feature’s conceited, inferiority-complex-afflicted director (Kevin Corrigan) butts heads with the producer and the cinematographer, leading to some funny confrontations that resembled similar tiffs in Hong Sang-soo films.
Nothing happens in Supporting Characters that would justify the employment of superlatives, but while its modesty is one of its best traits, the sneaking feeling that I was watching something special was confirmed during a scene in which Nick is required to “direct” (via overtly sexual come-ons and commands, through a glass pane) the film’s leading lady during an 11th-hour ADR session. This aggressive meet-cute, and the subsequent, weird-uncomfortable Notting Hill variation that follows from it, activated, or at least brought to my attention, the grown-up side of Supporting Characters, the side that covers the check for all the clever, sassy-indie comedy stuff that, while funny, wouldn’t have sustained my interest or pleasure for an entire feature.
Cause célèbre Lena Dunham has a small role as a rerecording mixer. She has no officially credited creative capacity other than her brief appearance on screen, but that alone is enough to remind viewers of the ongoing mainstream-ification of “those people,” whether you class them as mumblecore, satellites of mumblecore, or some category that’s too flimsy even to support the burden of its own name. Erstwhile Swanberg and Bujalski players are appearing in films by the Coen brothers, Woody Allen, or on HBO. Supporting Characters, in a way, is an ode to those who play a big part in upgrading actors and directors from nobodies to Names, but who must, inevitably, return to anonymity when the work is done.