Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
If you like your relationships just the way they are, for God’s sake, avoid the meandering group road trip. Josh knows this. Therefore, when the 20-something goes online to buy The Puffy Chair’s titular piece of furniture, a comfy purple replica of the chair his father favored back in the day, he plans to pick up the chair solo. The movie, director Jay Duplass’ feature debut, begins with Josh (Mark Duplass, the film’s writer and the director’s brother) and his longtime girlfriend, Emily (Kathryn Aselton), on the eve of the trip, having a giggly, baby-talk-laden dinner—until Josh takes a phone call and goes beyond talking about the business at hand to yakking about setting up some friends. At which point Emily knocks her dish off the table and storms out. Of course, Josh then feels obligated to take her with him. And when they stop to visit Josh’s New Age–y brother Rhett (Rhett Wilkins), it’s decided the party will become three. “I need to reconnect with Dad, dude!” Rhett says, rationalizing that his presence will be his birthday present to the old man, so what if his brother tracked down that godawful chair and picked it up and everything. “Dude,” by the way, is the siblings’ favorite word, with Josh even peppering his conversations with the quite feminine Emily with the frat-boyism, but The Puffy Chair is hardly the stoner flick that might lead you to expect. Indeed, the squirmily funny film is less Harold & Kumar than The Squid and the Whale. Each of the characters gets his or her own moment of slap-worthiness: Josh goes to George Costanza–ish lengths to save $10 on a motel room. Emily repeatedly asks, “What do you love about me?” when Josh is trying to sleep. Rhett believes in love at first sight—at least until the next morning. The relatively green performers are nonactorly enough to seem real yet artful enough to play with your sympathies throughout the movie’s swift-moving 85 minutes. They’re aided by a script that never stoops to melodrama or contrivance—OK, maybe the overly righteous motel manager is a bit idealized—in reminding us that we’re all a bitch to get along with once in a while. Presumably because Josh is a failed musician, there’s plenty of upwardly mobile mope rock on the soundtrack, including Spoon and Death Cab for Cutie. That probably won’t help The Puffy Chair escape its own indie ghetto, but no matter: Going somewhere sometimes sucks anyway. —Tricia Olszewski