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Funny Ha Ha


debbie lynn elias

Don't be misled by the technical roughness, unknown actors or handwritten paper credits. As we saw last year with one of my indie faves, "Primer" - a $6,000.00 budget that turned out to be a Grand Prize winner at Sundance and Best Picture nominee at the Independent Spirit Awards - low budget doesn't mean low quality. In fact, we have seen with increasing regularity over the past several years, low budget independent films becoming the heart and soul of the movie industry, making statements and evoking emotion that commercialism has for the most part kept from the movie mainstream. Which is exactly what we have this year with Andrew Bujalski's "Funny Ha Ha."

24 year old Marnie is, quite simply, a mess. A college graduate, Marnie is still living the life of an unfocused freshman dormie, partying by night, crashing wherever she may land, jumping from one menial job to the other, and having no direction whatsoever in her life. (Sounds exactly like a 40 year old I know!) Adding fuel to the fire is her one talent - looking for Mr. Right but always finding Mr. Wrong. Our first image of her is she walks in to what looks like a cramped back room of an underground radio station. Harsh lighting, a myriad of some rather unusual sketches and pictures on one wall, with stacks of what appears to be cassettes or movies on the other, and a less then hygienically friendly man greet her. Marnie wants a tattoo. Only problem is Marnie is drunk - and even admits to it. Luckily for her, after what could be deemed an almost brotherly inquisition about getting tattooed while under the influence, the tattoo artist has the good sense to ! send her on her way, with no tattoo. This - in a nutshell - is Marnie.

"Funny Ha Ha" follows Marnie as she goes from one misdirected, misguided adventure to another seemingly without a care in the world, crossing paths with various and sundry machinations and men - all of whom seem to fall in love with her but for the one she wants (Isn't this the way it always is?) - and from whom she will reap any benefit she can.

A former animator for director Richard Linklater, Kate Dollenmayer, is perfect as Marnie. With just the right amount of righteous indignation covering her like a threadbare sweater, Dollenmayer manipulates the underlying insecurities and awkwardness of Marnie to her advantage, letting just enough slip through the cracks, making it almost impossible to resist her wielding ways to "get by" in her 20-something way of life. Dollenmayer's r interactions with fellow non-professionals is appealing and likeable and never more so than with friend Mitchell, played by director Andrew Bujalski himself. Mark Herlehy is especially appealing with his performance as tattoo artist Grady, finding a nice balance between a rather grubby appearance and a sincere heart. And Christian Rudder's Alex hits reality on the head with a right-on delivery of his on-again/off-again romantic deliberations.

Andrew Bujalski, doing double duty as Director and Writer, does both quite well, making the most of a limited budget and basic technical facilities to give a raw edginess, baseness and overall setting to the film that captures the essence of Marnie to a tee. Dialogue, which is a bit unpolished, at times gives a sense of "forced casualness" but for the most part succeeds brilliantly in getting across the point of "ohmigod she is so lame!", further giving credence to the reality of the situation and the characters, leaving one with the feeling that the cameras were running but no one knew they were there. In keeping with life itself, some scenes play on what feels to be a bit too long while others a bit too short, but Bujalski maintains a relaxed pacing throughout, which goes far in conveying the "slacker" mode of the film. And as for the ending......without being a spoiler, while abruptly surprising, it speaks volumes about life. Realistic dialogue, believable situations and characters and the sheer natural likeability of Kate Dollenmayer make "Funny Ha Ha" a charmingly irresistible little comedy with a documentary-like flare that will remind us all of the little bit of "been there, done that" within each of us.

Kate Dollenmayer: Marnie Christian Rudder: Alex Mark Herlehy: Grady Andrew Bujalski: Mitchell

Written and directed by Andrew Bujalski. (90 min) original content copyright 2000-2017 by debbie lynn elias, all rights reserved
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