As in the films of Andrew Bujalski, The Puffy Chair‘s characters inhabit a self-contained universe of solipsism, their every conversation and undertaking an act of juvenile egomania in which maturely confronting the world is avoided. From its middling lo-fi aesthetic (including intermittent cinematographic losses of focus) and twentysomething slacker protagonists to its painfully abrupt ending, this first feature from brothers Mark (who stars) and Jay (who directs) Duplass resembles a more amusing yet less lyrical cousin of Funny Ha Ha, following former indie rocker-turned-booking agent Josh (Mark Duplass) as he travels from NYC to Atlanta in order to deliver the titular La-Z-Boy—an exact replica of one from his youth—to his father as a birthday present. Accompanied by his commitment-craving girlfriend Emily (Kathryn Aselton) and his New Age-y brother Rhett (Rhett Wilkins), Josh’s is a small-scale odyssey of enlightenment, though the realizations he gathers along the way aren’t necessarily of the encouraging or heartwarming variety. Incapable of engaging anyone in meaningful dialogue—whether it be Emily during pillow talk, or the eBay charlatan from whom he’s purchased the puffy chair—Josh is a man-child whose general inarticulateness reflects a larger unwillingness to responsibly face up to life, an affliction that also plagues the foolishly optimistic Emily and the inconsiderately air-headed Rhett. The trio’s ill-advised decisions prove mildly fertile ground for laughs, with an impromptu wedding scene between Rhett and a woman he’s just met at a movie theater benefiting from Josh’s tellingly passive-aggressive ceremony spiel, while director Jay shrewdly downplays his slightly clunky central motif—the reupholstered chair as symbol of Josh’s attempted makeover into an adult—in favor of focusing on his road-trippers’ free-flowing discourse. Still, despite Duplass and Aselton’s naturalistic rapport (filled with unbearable lovey-dovey cooing and his predilection for calling her “dude”), the film never quite strikes a comfortable or graceful balance between silliness and solemnity, so that when the informal story eventually transforms into a sobering portrait of a crumbling relationship, the effect—compounded by the often-unlikable self-involvement of its characters—is more off-putting than appealing.
- Roadside Attractions
- 85 min
- Jay Duplass
- Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass
- Mark Duplass, Kathryn Aselton, Rhett Wilkins, Julie Fischer, Bari Hyman, Gerald Finnegan
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