Directed by: Jay Duplass
A lunchtime excursion to Poundland on St. Stephens Street resulted in a purchase of ‘The Puffy Chair’, a film selected mostly for my curiosity about its title. I didn’t even read the back of the DVD box, just put it in my basket alongside my assortment of cleaning products and went to the staggered checkouts. I don’t know why, but I always pick the wrong line and end up queuing for an age in Poundland to purchase my bargains.
When I got around to watching the DVD this morning I finally had a look at the box, with its quirky design reminiscent of your usual ‘indie’ flick. It was described by the Daily Mirror as “The hippest, funniest, twentysomething relationship drama of the year…” I groaned at this quote before swallowing a spoonful of apple and cinnamon porridge and washing it down with a slurp of sugary tea.
The first few minutes of ‘The Puffy Chair’ are woeful, which is all the more surprising given that in an interview found on the bonus features of this DVD the Duplass Brothers, the creators of the film, admit that the opening scene was reshot because it was in their view terrible. We are introduced to an attractive young couple eating an unconventional dinner together. Josh (Mark Duplass) and Emily (Kathryn Aselton) are their names. They talk to each other in annoying Adam Sandler baby voices, before the conversation turns serious. Josh begins talking about a road trip he is planning. The easy going, seemingly improvised dialogue and shaky camera attempt to present an authentic situation. The two get interrupted when a buddy phones Josh and the apparent smutty conversation makes Emily storm out of the house.
Then comes the moment when I considered turning off the film. Josh wins back Emily by standing outside her window with a boom box ala John Cusack in the Cameron Crowe’s classic ‘Say Anything’. He asks her to go on the road trip, and she gleefully accepts.
After a rather ropey cliché ridden beginning the film actually picks up rather nicely. The couple are joined by Josh’s brother Rhett (Rhett Wilkins), an endearing filmmaker who sees the world through the eyes of his inner child. We discover that Josh is travelling to pick up a replica ‘Puffy Chair’ he bought on eBay that reminds him of a chair that the family had in their house when Josh and Rhett were kids; he’s planning to get it for their Dad’s imminent birthday. Reluctantly Josh allows Rhett to also join them on the road trip.
So the trio drive on. The films funniest scene takes place when Josh has a bright idea to try and con a motel owner by paying for a single room, rather than a room that accommodates three people. The rest of the movie takes place in the eBay seller’s small town as Josh, Emily and Rhett’s collection of the chair becomes unnecessarily complicated.
Unlike the early argument between Josh and Emily, the later bickering between the couple is more believable, and becomes quite uncomfortable to watch, as the two ask big themselves big questions about their future together. The Duplass brothers explore love rather well, as Rhett’s random encounter and subsequent unofficial shotgun wedding with a curly haired blonde called Amber contrasts with the long plodding struggle of Josh and Emily’s relationship; though Rhett and Amber’s rapid courting borders the line between cringeworthy and sweet, as they whisper sweet nothings under the influence of ‘SoCo’ and get jaked on green beers.
Though ‘The Puffy Chair’ was lumped in with the ‘Mumblecore’ movement, the skilled improvisation between the three main characters, who openly show their flaws, and come across perfect representations of imperfect people, means that this film stands on its own two feet.
I sometimes wonder if it was the commercial success of 2004’s ‘Garden State’ and ‘Sideways’ that allowed the thought provoking feel good coming of age life lesson indie flick to flourish, and in the fallout of this a naturalistic feelings based narrative run of indie films were able to flourish, getting approving nods at the festivals, and leading to directors like Noah Baumbach and the Duplass brothers to get the chance to forge careers in the film industry. I’ve enjoyed films like Baumbach’s ‘Greenberg’ and the Duplass’ ‘Jeff, Who Lives at Home’, but there always seems something missing, an essential ingredient which prevents their movies from ever becoming great films. Maybe it is the rigid attempt to be real that creates problems, because it prevents the viewer from indulging in much needed cinematic escapism.