Thus far in his lauded career, Andrew Bujalski has exhibited a pointillist touch, spending ample runtime on the miniature — bits of scenic color, echt conversations, chores of random import — that all eventually coalesce into a portrait of those in the throes of post-collegiate/young-professional angst. The quibble is often this: what’s the larger point of the casual words, words, words that come from the mealy-mouthed within? Like a Bujalski character, a viewer waits for the whatsit that may or may not come and it becomes crucial that one can stand the onscreen company.
Bujalski’s latest lo-fi mumbler Beeswax (which opens at the Film Forum today) will either bore the syntax out of you (“well…I… thought…well”) or, more likely, offer a strangely winsome glance at twin, Austin-based sisters Jeannie and Lauren (Tilly and Maggie Hatcher). The headstrong, wheelchair-bound Jeannie co-owns a modest vintage clothing store in a particularly “politically-conscious” district of Austin (one of the funnier, stumbling, true-to-life scenes has Jeannie promoting her business with the ballyhoo of a realtor). Lauren, meanwhile, proves to be her unemployed foil: tomboyish, flighty, and often flashing a mischievous smile, even after breaking up with her boyfriend. Throughout, they’re an inviting study in contrast.
Jeannie proves to be the character best suited to shouldering the expectations of acting-your-age, and there’s a peculiar grace to the way she contorts her features when searching for the words to skirt conflict with a clueless staff member or, say, her sister. Yet, she’s unable to get a read on her rarely-seen business partner/friend Amanda (Anne Dodge), whose opposing agenda for the store leads to an e-mail that, more or less, threatens a cure-all lawsuit (fine print: enlist trained professionals to speak on her behalf).
Jeannie decides to contact her old flame Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), who, as it happens, is studying for the bar exam. As the legal impasse sits ominously in the background, Jeannie, Merrill and Lauren search for an unseen panacea while other life-altering problems arise for each, namely that Jeannie and Merrill can’t find a relational medium between “radio silence” and “hot sex” and that Lauren might accept a position to teach English in Nairobi.
Bujalski’s talent lies in his restraint and his ear for the recognizable: he doesn’t gild his dialogue and thus his down-to-earth characters “errrmm” and “ummm” believably, like vehicles stuck in natural. When they do press on, they only do so ever-so-carefully, if not sometimes embarrassingly. This problem of communication and one’s fluctuating role among friends, partners, and family supply the subtle but sure-handed dramatic pull. Bujalski’s aims remain handheld and small-scale and he hits his bulls-eye here with a film that exudes humor, formal craft, and a steadfast commitment to utterly relatable characters—even if there remain maddening, dangling enigmas come the credits.