Beeswax is Bujalski’s third feature and the first to be conceived and shot since Funny Ha Ha (2002) and Mutual Appreciation (2003) turned him into a rising indie star. For the most part, it’s just as insular and homogeneous as any of the films Taubin rapped in Film Comment. It takes place in Austin, Texas, the little countercultural cocoon that launched Bujalski’s career, and most of the action centers on a funky little vintage clothing boutique favored by college students and the like. Its primary characters are all young, straight, white, middle-class, and college educated. And like so many other mumblecore movies, Beeswax is largely preoccupied with sexual and romantic maneuvering, as a young couple who’ve broken up circle each other tentatively and get back together.
Like many good storytellers, however, Bujalski trades breadth for depth, transcending his narrow social parameters by zeroing in on individuals. For all three of his films he’s reversed the typical practice of creating characters and casting actors to play them; instead he starts with people he knows socially and invents a story around them. Beeswax is about a pair of twins, Jeannie (Tilly Hatcher) and Lauren (Maggie Hatcher)—one of whom, Jeannie, is paraplegic. Though their facial features are identical, Lauren is conventionally slim, while Jeannie is built like someone who’s spent years in a wheelchair—she has a pronounced gut but muscular arms and shoulders. In a Hollywood movie this odd comparison-contrast would be the locus of the story, but in Beeswax, aside from a handful of scenes in which Jeannie requires minor physical assistance, it barely figures at all. The characters seem more real when their idiosyncrasies are taken for granted.
Taubin called Bujalski “a poet of demurral, hesitation, and noncommitment,” and one reason the mumblecore tag stuck is that it so aptly reflects the verbal groping and mushy equivocation common to many of the films. Yet Bujalski’s portraits of Generation Whatever can be remarkably exacting once you get past the dialogue to the characters’ actual behavior. Beeswax, as its title suggests, considers not just love relationships but business relationships, and the similarities between them are striking. Jeannie, who runs the clothing shop, is having serious communication problems with her business partner and is beginning to worry about getting sued. Her old boyfriend, Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), is a law student preparing to take the bar, and when she meets up with him to get his advice on the situation, they wind up going to bed together. Before long their romance has started up again, and though neither of them ever admits it, Merrill’s biggest attraction is his ability to calm her fears about her rapidly deteriorating business situation.
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