Friday, November 10, 2006

HIPPIES VS. HIPSTERS – COMPARE, CONTRAST, DRINK HAMM'S

Two great little indies – Old Joy, which opened Friday, Nov. 10, and Mutual Appreciation, which hits the Ritzes Friday, Nov. 24 – have more in common than just their improv-y, not-much-happens scenarios. They have the same product placement.

In Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy, singer/songwriter Will Oldham and actor Daniel London play a couple of long-time pals in Portland, Ore., who take a weekend camping trip in the thick of an old growth forest. Oldham’s Kurt is the quintessential west coast hippie, bearded, potbellied and potheaded, too. London’s Mark is about to become a dad, and has to ask permission, sort of, from his wife to take off for a few days. Then the two guys go, and talk – about impending fatherhood, about déjà vu, about the blurring lines between city and country life - and they hike, and soak naked in a natural hot springs and mellow out. And they smoke weed, and drink cans of Hamm's beer.

In Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation, the musician Justin Rice plays Alan, an educated, jobless twentysomething trying to get a band together, and some gigs, in Hipsterville USA, a.k.a. the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. He hangs out with his old buddy, Lawrence (played by writer/director Bujalski), and Lawrence’s girlfriend, Ellie (Rachel Clift). They go to a couple of parties, talk about friendship and art and skirt around the twin subjects of fidelity and adultery. And they smoke weed, and, yes, drink cans of Hamm's beer.

Maybe it’s an East Coast vs West Coast thing, but while both films are wholly engaging, I found Mutual Appreciation – shot in 16mm black and white – a little richer, smarter and more satisfying than Old Joy. The latter - in color, full of Zen moments of beauteous calm, courtesy of the ferny woods and tweety birds of the Oregon Cascades - received a couple of outsized raves, notably from Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. But its rambling, shambling Oregon hippie aesthetic requires a certain amount of patience – not for the slow pace and spare dialogue, really, but for the characters themselves. Especially Oldham’s Karl, who can’t seem to articulate all the sad yearning he has inside.

In any event, both films are well worth checking out. The link to the Ritz Theaters is here. The link to the Hamm's Club is here.

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