Think of Annie Hall populated with socially inept Gen-Xers and you get a good idea of what this film is about. Marnie is the Annie Hall of the film, and we see her struggles with romance–particularly over Alex. There are other movies this film made me think of:
Spike Lees She’s Gotta Have It–in the way that the film follows Marnie and her interactions with several different men;
Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise–in the way the film follows a woman finding herself–or at least finding some inner strength to stand on her own;
Richard Linklater’s Slacker–in that the characters seem very similar to the ones that appear in Slacker
The last example is apt because I think this is really noteworthy Gen-X film–noteworthy because the film actually has an interesting character and story to tell rather than just depict the state of being for many Gen-Xers (e.g. Garden State or Kicking and Screaming.
In a conversation with friends, I made the point that I thought the movie used conventions of the romantic-comedy in an interesting way–in a way that films like Big Lebowski and Fargo took characters and settings—i.e instead of the hard-boiled detective, we get the drug-addled surfer or the down home Minnesotan sheriff—atypical of the genre (in both cases, film-noir). By doing so the films develop in ways that conventional film-noirs don’t.
In my opinion, Funny Ha ha takes a similar approach—placing nerdy Gen-Xers in a romantic-comedy framework, namely Annie Hall. There is the quirky central figure in Marnie, whose is like a nerdy, more socially inept version of Annie; there are characters like Mitchell (Bujalaski) who has similarities to Woody Allen’s screen persona (the nervous anxiety as well as similar physical look); there’s the examination of romantic relationships and humor. But instead of intellectuals in Manhattan, the film takes place in the social milieu of Gen-X nerds—a world that real, rich and even diverse.
Take diversity. There’s almost a kind of hierarchy that we see within the nerd world–there are nerds who are “cool” punky (Alex); nerds who are nice (Dave); nerds who are doomed to be just a friend (Mitchell), etc. Not all nerds are the same. For example, in a Hollywood film, Alex would essentially be the Mitchell character. But here, the film portrays him as someone near the top of the social hierarchy–he treats his nerd roommate dismissively; he calls the two guys playing frisbees dorks(!). At the same time, all the characters in the film are real–the qualities that make them nerds are subtle and not over-the-top. You don’t feel like you’re watching caricatures.
Along these these lines, I’d like to mention the language and behavior of the characters. Seeing these characters speak and relate to each other–specifically the scenes with Marnie and Alex–makes me feel like I’m listening to people from another country. I’d characterize the conversations as quirky and awkward; I’d describe the way they interact as socially inept. Yet, I get the sense that the characters themselves would not feel that way; in their world, the conversations work; some of them, like Alex, can behave this way and actually be considered attractive. (To me, a guy like Alex would have a very difficult time outside of this milieu–not to say that he doesn’t have some difficulties within this world, but not as much.)
Because of all these reasons, I think the film and the filmmaker deserve some attention and acclaim. Indeed, this is the type of film I would consider as one of the decade’s best because it is new and largely succeeds at what it’s attempting.