Still wondering what ordinary, educated middle class people do with themselves after college? Writer-director Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation) has made another bewitching and potentially infuriating understatement on that subject, called Beeswax.
Although resolutely documentarian in demeanor, Bujalski's new film is meticulously scripted and, albeit mysteriously, directed; it strives for the sort of authentic, shambling naturalism that conceals any evidence of its own striving. Accordingly, it will be divisive.
Jeannie (Tilly Hatcher) runs a vintage boutique in Austin, where tension with her friend and business partner, Amanda (Anne Dodge), has turned litigious. It may or may not help that Jeannie's ex, Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), is a law student. And it may or may not help that Jeannie's twin, Lauren (Maggie Hatcher, now an ER doctor in the Bay Area), drifts through the loose orbit of her sister's world, modeling the store's clothes for ads, meandering between jobs and men, and mulling over a possible trip to Kenya.
Female characters such as these seem unprecedented in movies, yet unfailingly true to life. The movie is a mosaic of their mutual hesitations. Let the debate, about whether it actually works, begin.
On the one hand: It's too easy to call it mumblecore. On the other: It's too hard to think of anything else to call it.
On the one hand: This sure isn't the usual high-concept Hollywood hokum; it's not at all theatrical. On the other: There is no concept; it's not at all theatrical.
On the one hand: Bujalski's way of withholding expected dramatic conventions can be invigorating. On the other: It can also be coy and craven.
On the one hand: Understated conflict allows for character study. On the other: Passive aggression isn't necessarily the most entertaining form of understated conflict.
On the one hand: Bujalski's DIY vibe is appealing and inspiring. On the other: It's also rather clubby -- all the men in the movie are played by fellow Austin-area indie filmmakers -- and alienating.
On the one hand: Why shouldn't a film be rendered as a closely observed portrait of average American lives? On the other: These lives are not exactly average.
One the one hand: The Hatcher sisters are terrific muses. On the other: They are not professional actors.
On the one hand: It might make you think, "These people are just like me and people I know." On the other: It might also make you think, "Wow, we're pretty annoying sometimes."
So this is the sound of one hand clapping.
Beeswax opens Friday, September 11, at Landmark's Lumiere Theatre in San Francisco and Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley, with stars Tilly & Maggie Hatcher in person at the Shattuck on Friday, September 11, at 7 p.m. and 9:25 p.m., and at the Lumiere on Saturday, September 12, at 7:10 p.m. and 9:35 p.m. For tickets and information, visit landmarktheatres.com.