In his Tribeca Spotlight Narrative feature There There, Andrew Bujalski’s quirky, comedic take on love and coupling dynamically shifts through five vignettes. The World Premiere which screened at Tribeca Film Festival with a Q and A afterward is satiric and sharp. The stories thread irregularly from couple to situation. Interestingly, writer director Bujalski’s pointed dialogue twists on a dime to different scenarios and couples. He examines love, nascent relationships and disrupting influences.
We willingly go along for the ride because of the excellent acting and unusual cinematography. In fact much about the feature remains particular because of how Bujalski shot There There. As he stated in the Q and A after the Tribeca screening, the actors were miles away from each other in their homes during COVID-19. Thus, Bujalski and his team worked prodigious sets ups and heavily story boarded to accomplish remote filming.
Starring powerhouses known for delivering unique performances, Bujalski selects Jason Schwartzman, Lili Taylor, Lennie James, Molly Gordon and Avi Nash to spin encounters of want and confrontation. Subtly, he focuses on frontal shots of the actors who are in solo framed shots. They dialogue with those offscreen. Thus, when Lili Taylor discusses her previous evening’s intimacy with Lennie James, we never see the couple physically together. Yet, the beauty of Bujalski’s work seamlessly reveals through the dialogue, the amazing night for the “couple.” However, where will these two proceed if Taylor wants to move slowly toward the love dynamic and James wants to race ahead?
Bridged by a musical riff performed by the versatile Jon Natchez in the shadowy light from a window, the next scene shows Taylor and her friend an AA counselor. As the friend and counselor listens and reacts to Taylor’s impressions of the night with James, the mood changes. The scene sparks a different type of intimacy, one of a confidante who listens and one who digs deep to gain enlightenment. Uncertainty ends the encounter and Natchez’s music riff segues into a confrontation between teacher and parent.
The mom, played by Taylor’s counselor in the previous scene becomes abusive to Molly Gordon’s exasperated teacher. Apparently, the counselor’s son has been engaged in porn on his phone in class. How and why he sneaks the phone in without discovery is moot. Instead, the blame game moves forward and both Gordon and the parent verbally upbraid each other. Unsatisfactorily, the encounter ends strangely with nothing resolved. Ironically, two individuals who allegedly “have it together” based on their roles, reveal themselves to be flawed and self-hating. Reflecting the culture’s craziness, both negotiate with each other as adversaries instead of collaborators. They accomplish little to confront and help the son.
Natchez’s musical bridge moves the scene between two friends who violate the dictum that friends shouldn’t go into business together. Schwartzman and Nash tie into the previous scene. In this ironic construct Schwartzman’s lawyer advises Nash to curtail his apparently illegal money-making online activity. As they wrangle about the illegality and Nash’s exposure to liability, the debate flares. The fun parts of the scene involve Schwartzman in his kitchen puttering and Nash impressively doing upside down calisthenics on rings suspended from his ceiling. Again, this couple resolves nothing except to declare their brotherly love for each other. Apparently, their professional relationship and Nash’s exposure take a backseat to their closeness. But Nash’s character doesn’t accept Schwartzman’s legal advice anyway, so why not?
However, for the lawyer Schwartzmans portrays, the guilt becomes overwhelming. Visited by the ghost of his relative, portrayed by Roy Nathanson, Schwartzman has a humorous “come to Jesus” moment. We gather that he can’t bear up against his sleazy and unethical practice and behavior. Finally, resolution comes in this scenario as Schwartzman vows to change. Schwartzman’s ironic mirror image of ourselves in our best and worst moments of guilt, remorse, revelation and desire to change floats away. Sincerity seems key. However, we have no way of knowing whether his heart to heart with the ghost prompts him to correct or worsen. Uncertainty reigns.
In the last vignette after a Natchez, interlude James and Gordon meet up at James’ well appointed restaurant. As he attempts to save her from Nash’s intrusion into Gordon’s space, they chat. Gordon’s “drunk” convinces James to oust her. However, she manipulates him to stay and they settle into edgy repartee which ends in sexual suggestion then like a ghost floats away as Gordon leaves. Like all encounters, the results remain open ended, low-high risk on a tension wire of possibilities unrealized until the next encounter. Unfortunately, the film ended, but our imaginations took up the possibilities.
In the Q and A Bujalski acknowledged his film’s weird strangeness. Certainly episodic the narrative threads linked. However, no follow through chronicled any particular character. Instead, we sense that the individuals might pass each other in the street or meet at any moment. Life’s serendipitous moments, unusual and unique carry enjoyment and risk, as visited in the first, third and fifth vignettes. Compelling in and strikingly different, Bujalski’s There There is all the more fascinating considering its cinematography and great effort necessary to shoot during the pandemic.
For tickets and times go to the Tribeca Film Festival website: https://tribecafilm.com/films/there-there-2022 or check streaming services.