Movies are larger than life and the film industry is a magnet for people of near pathological ambition. So it’s always amazing when someone breaks in by making a movie that is just the right size. That is, no bigger than the filmmakers themselves and at least as entertaining as your own life.
The Puffy Chair is the feature film debut of the Duplass Brothers, Mark and Jay, who had garnered enough attention from the short films they made while living in Austin, Texas to talk their parents into loaning them some money to make a longer one. In the most dangerous of low-budget filmmaking decisions, Mark plays the lead role of Josh and his real life girlfriend Kathryn plays his film girlfriend, Emily in a road movie about their relationship. Everything that could go tragically wrong with this decision, doesn’t. Indulgent? Of course. But The Puffy Chair is smart, honest, and has a voice of its own. And Mark Duplass has the look of a guy who could be charming in other people’s movies, too.
The story revolves around Josh, a twenty-something New York musician whose career and relationship is going sour at the same time. As a means of escape, and hopefully catharsis, Josh embarks on a road trip loaded with karma. He’s found a Lazy Boy recliner on eBay, just like the one from his childhood living room, and he’s going to pick it up and deliver it to his dad in Atlanta as a surprise birthday gift. Against his self-centered instincts he invites both his fetching but contentious girlfriend and his sweet but maddeningly virtuous kid brother to join him.
Things go wrong in the predictable ways, but they also go right in some unexpected ways. Killing time in a small town, kid brother Rhett makes soulful eyes at a woman in a movie theater and within hours the two strangers have decided to get married. Brother Josh warns this is “just Rhett” and the drama is temporary, while girlfriend Emily wants to endorse anything that speaks of marriage and romance. The engagement becomes the longest episode in the road movie, and the Duplass Brothers treat it with good humor and great affection. In the end both Josh and Emily were partly right about romance, but it appears their own relationship doesn’t have much place in the middle ground.
If I may abuse a metaphor The Puffy Chair is a comfortable little movie, a bit ratty around the edges, but it never goes too soft. The Duplass Brothers explore the kind of conflict most of us have lived, even if we never saw our lives as something out of a movie. It’s either the result of skillful introspection or budgetary limitations. Maybe the next Duplass Brothers movie has a clue. I’m looking forward to it.
© 2007 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 5/30/06
The Puffy Chair
U.S. - 2005