The Puffy Chair

The Puffy Chair

In a weekend rife with slick offerings from the Leonardo Di Caprios and Mel Gibsons of the world, set everywhere from the fall of the Mayan Empire to the Kono district of Sierra Leone, it’s refreshing to find a movie like Jay and Mark Duplass’ The Puffy Chair. Shot for only US$15,000, and over the course of only a couple of days, the film is a kind of amalgam of Cassavetes’ Faces, Richard Linklater’s Slacker, and this year’s Aniston-Vaughan vehicle The Break-Up.

At the film’s opening, Josh (co-writer and producer Mark Duplass) and Emily (Kathryn Aselton) sit at the kitchen table, engaging in some of the most cringe-inducing, cutsey banter you’ve ever heard. Josh is a failed musician and half-assed promoter. He epitomizes the infantilized modern male—he wants a mother and a playmate, but he can’t quite deal with a girlfriend. Emily knows he’s a goof, but she loves the bugger anyway, clinging to the idea that one day he’ll wake up, recognise how good he’s got it and ask her to marry him.

Josh, for his part, is more concerned with a recent discovery on eBay—a maroon recliner that’s identical to one his family had when he was a kid. He plans, therefore, to take a roadtrip: he’ll visit his wayward, neo-hippie brother Rhett, pick up the chair and then deliver it to his father in Atlanta as a birthday present. When Josh’s insensitivity prompts Emily to flee his kitchen in disgust on the eve of his departure, he decides to invite her along for the ride.

It goes without saying that the trip exposes more cracks in Josh and Emily’s relationship that it heals. When Rhett volunteers himself as a backseat squatter and then, in a late-night, alcohol-fuelled cermony, marries a girl he meets en route, questions of romance, commitment and expectations bubble to the surface.

The real strength of The Puffy Chair (and all of the Duplass Brothers’ moderately famous, though far-inferior shorts) is the way in which they capture the nuances of 20-something intimacy. Throughout, the dialogue that Duplass and Aselton share is as painful as it is hilarious. Three bang-on performances (Rhett Wilkins’ portrayal of Josh’s aura-conscious brother is absolutely hilarious) only serve to enhance the effect. Aselton in particular displays awe-inspiring range, managing to convey longing and disappointment in the same crooked smile.

The overall effect of seeing Josh and Emily’s relationship dissected in such tragicomic detail is almost too close to the bone for this scattered 20-something to bear. That said, something tells me that The Puffy Chair isn’t going to speak to everyone. With its episodic plot (the brothers, who’ve made a number of failed features in the past, consciously put the film together as a series of strung-together shorts) and a distractingly off-kilter camera will be too unpolished for some.

Even if you don’t see The Puffy Chair, watch out for the Duplass Brothers. Now that this has been a hit at Sundance and won the Audience Choice award at the South by Southwest Festival, it won’t be long before these guys are back on the screen again.

The Puffy Chair is playing at the Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor St. W., 416-561-2331) Dec. 8 to 14.