Funny Ha Ha
By Nick Pinkerton
about Andrew Bujalski’s limp first feature
Funny Ha Ha at this point, I don’t
generally find myself talking about Funny
Ha Ha. Part of this is because there
is so very little to talk about, and inasmuch
as I have anything to say about the film
itself, I have already written it or said
it, often when nicely toasted in the company
of people who, like myself and Mr. Bujalski,
hold liberal arts degrees and have a passing
interest in indie rock music. But, since
I’m trying to carve a niche for myself as
the sole outspoken detractor of Bujalski’s
now-burgeoning career (he’s got a second
film in the can, the Williamsburg-set Mutual
Appreciation, which I anticipate with
depraved, lip-smacking glee), I didn’t think
I could let the Reverse Shot year-end round
up slide by without taking a few cracks.
I’m hoping to catch a rising star, you see;
maybe he’ll even let me be in his next movie!
Bujalski is a rising star, I’m fairly certain, though I think I read—I forget where—that he was even now working at a bookstore, strapped for cash, and living for his art. All of which one would think would make him a somewhat sympathetic villain, but I just need to hear one report of Andrew, FHH star Christian Rudder, and Rudder’s abysmal band Bishop Allen (Isaac Brock and Simon & Garfunkel appropriations decorate dickless power pop) hosting New York Noise, grilling out on the roof of their building, sunny and content in their niche celebrity, to get my dander back up.
Why do I hate Funny Ha Ha so, so much? Some defenders have as much as suggested it’s because it “hits too close too home,” which I’ve considered at length—it did take me the better part of a decade to realize that goateed Ethan Hawke’s struck me as such a douche in Before Sunrise, smugly showing off his copy of Klaus Kinski’s autobiography with affected embarrassment, simply because I myself was a goateed, self-aggrandizing douche with a well-thumbed copy of Kinski Uncut. But I don’t think this can apply here; neither myself nor anyone I know is anywhere near as dull as the dramatis personae in Funny Ha Ha—I had the feeling when watching it of being trapped in one of those college parties that made me want to make a 180 turn on as soon as I walked through the door. This isn’t the problem, of course; I love plenty of movies about very boring people. But it doesn’t exactly help.
Still, I think that “too close to home” assessment is probably not altogether wrong, though not in the manner that it was meant. “We hate it when our friends become successful,” or so says Morrissey—not to suggest that Bujalski is a friend of mine, but he could be, theoretically. He may disagree. We’re close in age, both probably self-identify a great deal through our allegiance to independent, alternative art, and probably share at least a handful of common passions—to this degree, I consider him a representative sample of my generation, and I take personal umbrage at his failings, which seem so amplified.
When I hear the adjectives “humble” or “unassuming” applied to a movie, it’s a fairly safe bet that I don’t need to see it; the whole hesitant, no-eye-contact school of art just makes me squirm. So thinking that something as milquetoast as Funny Ha Ha’s unconvincing flirtations will be one of the opening shots fired by my peers as they overtake the film world is just beyond depressing. I mean, the only attraction to young people making art is the idea that, in their hopped-up, libidinal haze and confusion, they might happen to make something that really vibrates—the Adolescents LP, a Maldorer, a Before the Revolution. Bujalski makes movies lifeless enough to come from someone twice his age: if anyone can make the exploded-art-school-dorm-amidst-blue-collars-and-vinyl-siding atmosphere of Williamsburg truly uninteresting, it’ll be him.
Seeing so much ado over the belated release of this prototypical student film—earnest, serious, and not particularly watchable (I made one of these things once; at least I had the decency not to show it to people)—was at any rate one of the most curious critical phenomena of 2005. Among the films loudest supporters was Ray Carney (Boston-based, like Bujalski), a mountebank academic with aspirations of indie avatardom who dresses like an infomercial host and likes to remind his readers how darn serious he is about art by mentioning Bach or Henry James in every single paragraph he’s ever written. He’s on record as gifting Bujalski’s press kit with the doozy “Andrew Bujalski the Renoir of Gen Z,” which vies with “Why in the world would we want our movies to be so different from life?” for the stupidest words he has yet emitted. His righteous ethos, a rather chartered, limited idea of The Truth, is echoed in most of the writing on Funny Ha Ha, which usually goes something like:
“This truly sublime group of young, intuitive actors (where did they come from!?) achieve a rare synergy, speaking more profundities with a clouded glance or a muffed sentence than most Hollywood movies can in two hours. There’s a hushed poetry to the inarticulacy of Funny Ha Ha’s cast, whose halting speech reminds us of the fact that not one of us lives in a world of ready-made quips and on-demand zingers. The laughs in Funny Ha Ha are from the spirit, not the belly…”
…Or something along those lines—I should mention that the movie’s not funny at all, not even once. What’s that about?