Combustible Celluloid Review - There There (2022), Andrew Bujalski, Andrew Bujalski, Lili Taylor, Lennie James, Annie LaGanga, Molly Gordon, Jason Schwartzman, Avi Nash, Roy Nathanson, Jon Natchez
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lili Taylor, Lennie James, Annie LaGanga, Molly Gordon, Jason Schwartzman, Avi Nash, Roy Nathanson, Jon Natchez
Written by: Andrew Bujalski
Directed by: Andrew Bujalski
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 93
Date: 11/18/2022

There There (2022)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Connect Chore

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Andrew Bujalski's There There is a pandemic-era experiment, and it sometimes works, but it feels like a step down for a filmmaker so magically attuned to the way people talk with one another. Consisting of six segments with two characters apiece, each actor was shot alone, and then cleverly seamless editing makes it seem as if the characters are occupying the same space. This technique can often seem obvious, and can result in a sense of disconnect, but Bujalski pulls it off smoothly, especially in the first segment. Two unnamed characters, played by Lili Taylor and Lennie James, have spent a wonderful night together, complete with great sex and a lingering attraction and excitement. But as their morning chitchat progresses, the woman seems to grow panicky.

In the next segment, she speaks to her AA sponsor, played by Annie LaGanga, from Bujalski's amazing Computer Chess. (All the characters here are unnamed.) The first woman talks about a previous sponsor, and about sending messages to outer space, and we begin to realize that she may be something of a whackadoodle. Then, LaGanga's character is seen in a conference with her son's teacher (Molly Gordon). It seems pretty ordinary, until LaGanga's character produces audio from a video shot by her son in class, and revealing the teacher angrily losing control over her students. The women fight, and the mother walks out, leaving the teacher in tatters.

Next up, we get Jason Schwartzman as a lawyer and Avi Nash as some kind of wealthy tech guy. I didn't get the connection here, but apparently Nash's character has built a website that has become the home for nasty little videos like the one the boy shot in class. The two have a phone call in which Schwartzman's character fights to save his job. Then Schwartzman appears at home in bed. He wakes up, seeing the ghost (Roy Nathanson) of a former boss, and immediately begins chattering his head off, rather than waiting to see what the ghost wants.

The last segment returns to the teacher, who has had quite a bit to drink in a bar tended by James's character. So in a way, There There is about attempting to connect and failing to connect; James's character still hopes for a chance with Taylor's, although we know what he doesn't know, that it's probably never going to happen. Yet while Bujalski has done this same thing beautifully in his past works, the attempt here feels thin and shrill, especially as it goes along. Perhaps worse, the Schwartzman segments feel like padding, interrupting an otherwise geometrical flow.

One of the best touches in the film is composer Jon Natchez appearing onscreen between the segments, playing music pieces for us on various instruments, and setting the tone for what's to come. That's a clever idea, especially given the limitations of pandemic shooting, and it works beautifully. But it seems as if, for the rest of the film, Bujalski put a little too much effort, a little too much thought, into how to shoot around the restrictions imposed upon him, and not enough about what he wanted to say.

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