BAM CinemaFest Review: Beeswax
Sprawling yet restrained, Andrew Bujaski’s new film Beeswax is either his best film yet or significantly underdeveloped.
The decision as to which you might believe rests in your own prejudices and the way you view cinema.
For instance, a valid question might be to ask yourself whether you are a fan of the “mumblecore” movement and the challenge to conventional cinema it provides.
“Mumblecore”, for those of you who don’t know it, is a new American independent-cinema among a group of largely white, 30-something filmmakers who believe that movies do not have to be about world-changing events, but rather the intricacies of one relationship or one moment in a life.
A good way of illustrating might be to compare a movie like Transformers II, full of robots, explosions and Bad Boys II references, to a movie like Mutual Appreciation, about a couple of people who think about cheating together, but ultimately decide not to and instead talk it out and do a little dance.
The contrast is rather stark and Mr. Bujalski (who also made Mutual Appreciation) is considered the break-out artist, if not the godfather, of the genre.
So when Andrew Bujalski announces that his new film will be a “legal thriller”, as an audience we collecting wink and wince, trying to figure out how that will work.
And, as a “legal thriller”, I can certainly tell you that Beeswax does not work.
The movie follows a pair of identical twins, Jeannie and Lauren (played by real-life twins,Tilly and Maggie Hatcher), who eke out an existence an Austin, Texas, living in the same house. Lauren is a free-spirit, but also unrooted, who dumps her boyfriend because she feels that she’s only half-in the relationship (“And why is that a problem?” Her rightly-dumped boyfriend asks). Jeannie, her sister, is more responsible handling the day-to-day operations of a thrift-store she co-owns called Storyville, along with the emotional demands of an air-headed new shop clerk (Kay O’Connor). Jeannie’s part of the story adds the “legal thriller” aspect–her irresponsible partner is considering a lawsuit–and also a twist of reality: even though Jeannie and Lauren are “identical”, Jeannie is confined to a wheelchair for reasons never explained.
It is here that another element of the “mumblecore” genre is played with: the relationship between character and performer, fiction and reality. The cast is mostly made up of friends and former actors for Mr. Bujalski. Jeannie’s love interest, a law student who tries to comfort her about the details of the lawsuit that may-or-may-not be coming her way, is played by Alex Karpovsky, a filmmaker who Mr. Bujalski reportedly cast because he “liked his movies”. When Mr. Bujalski was asked about his choice to work with non-professional actors at the Q+A for the film, he said “that my films wouldn’t work without them.”
And indeed, Beeswax does feel like a better movie for its bristly performances. The pacing, while not glacial, seems like the pacing of life in a small subsection of Austin, Texas. In other words, it rings true. However, for all of the unhurried veracity of the film, it might also lead some viewers to wonder: “Well, why did I pay 12 dollars for this?” By the end of Beeswax, not much has changed. In fact, Mr. Bujalski explicitly points out how little has changed with how similar the situations of the characters is at the beginning of the movie is to its end. He is a filmmaker who seems not to believe in telling stories beyond the personal, the simple, the everyday, and the leaves the judgment of value to you.
In the end the satirical element of a “legal thriller” falls flat and feels snide if you view the film that way, or snarky. But one need not.
Beeswax is a film without bees or wax or beeswax. It’s a film that puts you in the figurative meaning of it’s title, “personal business”, the personal business of its characters for a short 100 minutes, before leaving you to your own judgments and life.
For Mr. Bujalski, that’s your beeswax, not his.