The culture of irony is a slippery devil. It has seeped into our skin, peppered our speech with "Dudes," and created walls between ourselves and the people closest to us. It is the post-meta way of this generation to constantly detach, poke fun, belittle and play down, to the point of never being able to honestly say how we feel.
Therefore, without any ironic smirking whatsoever, I must emphatically scream from the rooftops: "Go see The Puffy Chair!!" This movie is so under the radar that its theatrical run may not even last as long as it takes to type this sentence, but I hope that in some small way I can encourage you to seek out this heartbreakingly honest, funny, well-written, brilliantly acted portrayal of a relationship trying to claw its way out of layers of stifling coolness.
This tiny little homemade film was shot with hand-held digital cameras, stars complete unknowns, and boasts a nifty indie rock soundtrack. In theory, this combination would send me screaming from the theater. Anyone remember Thumbsucker? Ugh. With so many of these kinds of films, like Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know, in the process of trying to be "honest" and "real" in their portrayal of "quirky" people, these filmmakers' own hipster snobbishness creates a condescending attitude toward their own characters, forcing the audience to feel alienated and superior at the same time. This is not a sensation I seek from a film, and yet it seems that every time I give one of these buzzed-about films a chance, there is some white trash weird freaky sexual absurdity that is supposed to pass for real humanity. Ha frickin' ha. Or even worse, pop culture references thrown in to make the filmmaker look cool, the audience feel cool, and everyone can just go home thinking that they're so cutting edge.
In The Puffy Chair, made by the Duplass Brothers, the characters themselves are the reference, the edge, and the humanity. Josh, an indie rock booking agent, embarks on a road trip to pick up a huge purple upholstered Lazy Boy recliner that he found on eBay, and deliver it to his father for his birthday. He somewhat reluctantly brings along his girlfriend Emily, who pokes and prods him into the big "relationship talk" at every opportunity along the way. Josh is unable to communicate with Emily in a straightforward way, after years of being on the road with his own band and having cultivated a completely detached hipster persona. Even Emily, to some extent, has worked out her own "cute little alternative chick" façade, so she too has a role to play in their dysfunctional communication skills. They pick up Josh's dreamy, childlike bearded brother Rhett, who, even though he appears remarkably open to the wonders of the world, maintains his own distance by virtue of his meticulously manicured naiveté.
Their little road trip reveals something to each of them about how they deal with the world, each other and the people they love. The chair is not what Josh expected, and the trip is not what it started out to be. It's Sideways for the emo generation, or Stranger Than Paradise without the absurd humor. The big chair becomes more than just a chair -- it is a symbol of the comfort we seek but can never find until we are at peace with ourselves and open and honest in our relationships. The film reaches into a cultural strata that I have never seen so honestly portrayed on the screen, the true victims of the culture of irony: ourselves.