I don’t watch romantic comedies. I simply don’t like them. I usually find them formulaic and schmaltzy, and very, very, very predictable. Being an underrepresented genre in my movie viewing, I decided it might be time to take in one or two. So it was I came to decide on “The Puffy Chair.”
This was mainly because it was written and directed by brothers Mark and Jay Duplass. Jay is more of a behind the scenes fellow, but I had become familiar with Mark as star of the overlooked FX comedy “The League,” and figured if I was going to give a “rom-com” a try, might as well go with someone’s work I enjoy, at least.
Duplass plays Josh, a wannabe musician who has been relegated to a minor booking agent. The movie opens with Josh having dinner with his girlfriend, Emily (Katie Aselton). He is preparing to go on a trip from New York to Georgia for his father’s birthday. Along the way he means to stop and pick up a vintage chair he purchased off EBAY (oh, my bad, EBUY) just like the one his father owned when he was a child. He is also to stop and visit with his brother Rhett (Rhett Wilkins). During the dinner Emily and Josh have an argument, and to make up for it Josh invites her to come with him on his road trip.
The first stop is to meet Rhett, who has some sort of unorthodox, beatnik, spiritual mojo going on. He talks a lot about the energy in the room, or between people. Also he really likes lizards, apparently. When Josh mentions he’s going to Georgia to see Dad on his birthday, Rhett admits he had forgotten the date, and asks if he can tag along, much to the chagrin of Josh and Emily. Then hilarity and hijinks ensue! This is a regular “You, Me and Dupree!” ROAD TRIP!!
Actually, this is probably the antithesis of that sort of film. Although I have to admit, I haven’t seen “You, Me and Dupree.” I will go so far as to say you would have a greater chance of seeing me drink hot lava straight from an erupting volcano than watching it. Rhett isn’t really introduced to be the over-the-top comedy relief; he’s just another character in the story, one for the other two to play off of in different ways so you can learn more about their personalities.
As a matter of fact, this movie isn’t really a comedy at all. If you are going in thinking it is, you will be sorely disappointed. This is a dramatic look at the relationship between Jay and Emily. You are invited to their petty arguments, their oddball conversation, even their awkward, unbalanced baby talk moments. It looks in to why they are together, if they should stay together and examines how we make those decisions in relationships.
The film flounders, however, when it isn’t focused on the main duo. A few scenes are dull and repetitive, feeling as though they are there just to fill run time. And Duplass’s sparse direction is not going to keep your attention during these downturns.
Fortunately there are a handful of scenes with dialogue so unbelievably well written, reflecting perfectly conversations most all of us have engaged in, that you can forgive the shortcomings of the other parts of the film. Not the kind of overwritten, overly-dramatic drudgery written in something like, say, “The Notebook,” dialogue nobody would ever really, truly utter written specifically to illicit a certain response, most often crying. Rather believably real, gritty, relationship dialogue. I swear I have had some of these conversations before.
Not only is the dialogue eerily familiar to anybody who has been in a troubled relationship, but Duplass and Aselton deliver said dialogue in flawless fashion. They have a great chemistry, probably attributable to their real life marriage.
“The Puffy Chair” is nowhere close to a perfect film, but when it is hitting on all cylinders it is achingly familiar and introspective without having to rely on preposterous stereotypes to get the point across. It’s certainly not for everybody, some would probably describe it as boring at worst and droll at best, but it sets out to make some interesting observations about relationships without cramming the ideas down our throats, and in this it is very successful .
Written by Ryan Venson