The Puffy Chair

The Puffy Chair (IMDB), written and directed by Mark and Jay Duplass, opens with the two leads, Josh and Emily, sitting at a kitchen table as Josh prepares for a road trip to collect the vintage La-Z-Boy of the film’s title. Josh (played by co-writer Mark Duplass) and Emily (Kathryn Aselton) speak in the familiar tones that suggest they have been a couple for a long time, but a phone call that interrupts their late-night conversation suggests that some uncertainty within their relationship. Filmed naturalistically with handheld camera, the scene quietly establishes the tone of the film, both in terms of the tension in the couple’s relationship and their ability to talk around that tension. The film’s “homemade” style, suggested in large part by the naturalistic cinematography and dialogue, allows the Duplass brothers to achieve something quite effective: a funny and thoughtful indie film that earns the emotional impact of its final scene.

After the kitchen table argument, Josh semi-apologizes the following morning by waking up Emily by standing at her window and holding a juke box over his head while playing a song they like. Under normal circumstances, the nod to the classic scene in Say Anything might seem obvious, but it’s just the sort of slacker-romantic move that someone like Josh might use to get himself back in the graces of his girl-friend. Josh invites Emily to join him on their road trip,a nd along the way, they pick up Josh’s neo-hippie brother, Rhett (Rhett Wilkins), who eventually serves as a foil for Josh’s interactions with Emily. And in true road-trip style, the plans to pick up the recliner don’t go as planned, and Josh, Emily, and Rhett find themselves stuck in North Carolina (of all places) for several days.

As Kimberly Jones of The Austin Chronicle notes, the film works so well because the Duplass Brothers have an ear for dialogue, with Josh and Emily “mired in the universal ways of dysfunctional couples–the doublespeak and hidden agendas,” making the couple at once highly specific but also very familiar. There are suggestions, for example, that Emily may have pressured Josh to quit his rock band so that he could spend more time with her. The tension in their relationship culminates in a remarkable scene in which Rhett meets Amber (Julie Fisher) in an art house theater in North Carolina. They disappear, and eventually when Josh and Emily find them, Rhett declares that he wants to marry Amber, whom he met just hours earlier. Josh “marries” them in a series of improvised, mock-romantic vows that Rhett and his new “bride” recite whle Emily watches, comparing her relationship with Josh to Rhett’s eagerly romantic gesture (as Mick LaSalle notes, Aselton is very good in this scene). Still, even while the film is remarkably perceptive about these dysfunctional relationships, it is also a remarkably funny film. The soundtrack is also impressive featuring songs by indie faves Matt Pond PA, Of Montreal, and Death Cab for Cutie. I really liked The Puffy Chair and hope the film finds the wider audience that it deserves.

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