Genius Products // 2005 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // February 19th, 2007
A road trip comedy and the first cautionary tale about unethical eBay sellers.
If there's anything that independent films can claim to offer, it's reality. Studio films are bogged down by conventions that guarantee returns, but movie-goers sometimes yearn for something creative, thoughtful, and unique. With The Puffy Chair, that's almost what we get, though I'm not totally sure it's what we really want.
Josh (Mark Duplass, The Intervention) is a childish, commitment-challenged twentysomething, about to take a trip to pick up a chair for his father's birthday. On a whim, he invites Emily (Kathryn Aselton, The Intervention), his very frustrated girlfriend, to come along for the ride. After a quick stop-over to see Josh's brother Rhett (Rhett Wilkins, Jumping off Bridges), they all find themselves traveling together, unprepared to handle the awkwardness of the next few days.
I'm not sure what I was expecting from The Puffy Chair, except for another indie road comedy. I was pleasantly surprised by the ways brothers Jay and Mark Dupless (the film's director and writer, respectively) fought to bring us something different. This is not the indie road comedy that we've already seen dozens of times. That said, I came away feeling disappointed and unfulfilled.
For its flaws, The Puffy Chair does a lot of things right. The performances are excellent, particularly from the three leads. They rarely seem aware of the camera's presence, and the dialogue is almost eerily real at times. Kathryn Aselton's performance is the strongest, even though her character is not fleshed out enough. Emily seems to be there more to escalate Josh's personal crisis than anything else, but the performance is strong enough to turn Emily into a rich, three-dimensional character. Rhett is also like so many slackers I have known, and even though some of his lines and decisions are completely ridiculous, he manages to sell each moment.
With such intensely real characters, The Puffy Chair should feel like something completely new and different. After all, several key sequences and the ending clearly show that the Dupless brothers are out to destroy our expectations and give us a new perspective on twentysomething relationships. Ultimately, though, the film just isn't new and fresh enough. Mark Duplass seems so intent on playing Josh as a typical, commitment-scared Gen-Y loser that his own personal crisis felt empty as the film progressed. While the performances are strong enough that we buy the relationships between Josh and the other characters, his own struggles simply don't work. To compound this problem, he has several exchanges that are steeped in coming-of-age movie clichés. His own development climaxes in a conversation with his father that feels like it was ripped kicking and screaming out of a '50s sitcom. This lack of a strong central character damages what could have been a truly believable film.
A few other things stand in the way of total success. The cinematography is designed to be immersing, but it tries a bit too hard to look rough and low budget (which I realize it is). The constant zooms, shifts of focus, and jiggles distract from the experience rather than drawing us into the reality of the situation. I understand why the Duplass brothers went for this effect, but it's ultimately distracting. They also didn't script everything out ahead, and weren't completely sure what direction the film would take. While this does make the film more "real," it also acts as a reminder of why we love fictional films so much. The story often meanders, and the ending doesn't have the emotional resonance that it should. There are also a few highly implausible moments, which remind us that we are, indeed, watching a movie that's not that different from the average fare. It was just made for cheaper. None of these things destroy the experience of watching The Puffy Chair, but they prevent this from becoming a must-see indie gem.
The disc is well produced, with a sharp, clean anamorphic widescreen transfer. The stereo soundtrack is well mixed (with some great tunes). It's incredible how fast low-budget filmmaking has developed. This film was shot on mini-DV, and it really doesn't look like it. There are a number of special features as well. We get a commentary track from the Dupless brothers, which does show the passion they have for the film. There are also outtakes, deleted scenes, some additional short films and interviews. Many of these have value, especially for first-time filmmakers who want to get their feet wet and need some encouragement to give it a chance. It's a good collection of special features, and it's clear that the Dupless brothers have poured a lot of themselves into the film and the disc.
This review probably makes The Puffy Chair sound a lot weaker than it is. It's an enjoyable viewing experience, thanks to the impressive performances and unique approach. For fans of indie filmmaking, it's certainly worth checking out. It's also recommended for people who are tired of the same old comedies. It brings some new things to the table, and even though it doesn't play as fresh as it could have, it's much more interesting than the steady stream of mainstream road comedies. As their skill continues to develop, we will be seeing impressive work from the Dupless brothers.
Josh annoys me, but he hasn't broken any laws. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Short Films
* Official Site