City Paper is not for tourists
An ingénue, a diva, a chucklehead, and a seemingly regular guy who turns out to be a chucklehead go into the woods to write a movie for their struggling-actor selves. It sounds like the setup for a bad joke, but in fact it’s the premise of Baghead, the second feature by mumblecore auteurs Jay and Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair). The difference? About 83 minutes. Baghead actually starts out promisingly: The four main characters are watching a godawful film at an indie festival, alternately grimacing, laughing, and having inevitable we-could-do-better-than-that thoughts. Turns out the director is an acquaintance of Matt (Ross Partridge), who does some ass-kissing to try and score access to the screening’s afterparty. (“Did you just say his film was awesome?” chucklehead Chad [Steve Zissis] later asks with a nauseated look.) They don’t get into the party, so instead they decide to hole up at a family member’s cabin for the weekend to write their own script. Because the foursome comprises two sorta-couples—Matt and the arrogant Catherine (Elise Muller) have been on and off for 11 years, while Chad is trying to move beyond the friend zone with dippy Michelle (Greta Gerwig)—they’d like to write a romance. But when Michelle dreams about a guy stalking them with a bag on his head, a thriller takes shape—and then goes meta when they realize the vision might not have just been a dream after all. Compared to films such as Tropic Thunder and The Blair Witch Project, Baghead’s pokes at the film industry and attempts at vérité horror are a little like making vroom-vroom noises next to a Porsche. The Duplasses’ main offenses are their characters, who despite being well into their 30s (with the possible exception of Michelle) act like brats, playing nasty tricks on one another and pouting a lot when things don’t go their way. (The Puffy Chair’s leads weren’t always likable, but they were realistic—and in a superior movie.) Also throw-your-Skittles irritating is the directors’ camerawork, which is wobbly with frequent focus adjustments and sudden zooms. There are a couple of decent scares here, and the sexual tension between the four sometimes feels believable, if unequivocally 10th-grade-ish. With digital cameras getting cheaper and film festivals reproducing like mosquitoes, Baghead isn’t likely to mark the end of the lo-fi movement. But it’s a good argument against hailing amateur as the new pro.