Funny Ha Ha

Andrew Bujalski

When we first meet Marnie (Kate Dollenmayer) she’s stumbling into a tattoo parlor after a night of post-college partying. She knows (or at least she thinks she knows) that she wants a tattoo but she’s not quite sure what it should be. While the tattoo artist shows enough integrity not to take advantage of the slightly inebriated Marnie, this scene helps set the tone of not only Bujalski’s sly, clever, character piece that instantly calls to mind Reality Bites, Slacker and the early work of John Cassavetes but it also helps define our leading lady who, having recently graduated from college seems to exist in that state of post-graduate confusion, knowing she needs to grow up but not quite sure how to do that or how to begin her life. Although some label her depressed, Marnie is mostly just bored and aimless as she begins a series of jobs that aren’t quite right for her including working as a temp and a researcher and also has romantic flirtations, crushes and encounters that never quite work out, most likely because the one man she claims to love has told her in the past that he doesn’t reciprocate her feelings. Bujalski, who appears in the film as a coworker who crushes on Marnie, has made a debut film here that seems to echo the feelings of those of us stuck between Generations X and Y—the way the characters drift in and out of scenes, talking endlessly but filling conversations with double-speak, subtle non-dialogue (brimming with “like” and “you know”) that seems to imply other things resonates as well here as it did in his follow-up film Mutual Appreciation, which I’d seen before this one. Funny Ha Ha is funny at times, sad at others but above all true—that rare post-school film that like Ghost World mingles the two emotional states into a frothy, addictive blend with which most viewers can identify—we’ve all been Marnie, wandering around with goals and more questions than answers. We know we want to move forward, get a better job and a nice romantic relationship but it’s the getting there that seems to be the greatest mystery in our twenties and the film never does resolve the issue, choosing to simply end nearly mid-conversation between two lead characters. The film earned Bujalski the 2004 Someone to Watch Award from the Independent Spirit Awards along with Best Feature Film at the Black Point Film Festival. Linklater fans along with those who have worn out their copies of Ghost World and Reality Bites will definitely want to check it out.