IFC Brings Mumblecore to the Web in 'Like So Many Things'

By 07/09/2009
IFC Brings Mumblecore to the Web in 'Like So Many Things'
Like So Many Things

IFC’s original web series Like So Many Things arrives on the crest of Mumblecore, the approximately five year-old strain of independent filmmaking characterized by low-low-low budget production, unfussy shooting styles, stories focused on the romantic tribulations of young, post-collegiate urban hipsters, and, most notoriously, awkward and hesitant dialogue.

I have no idea how connected, if at all, its creators are to this “movement” – I couldn’t find any links to Mumblecore pioneers like Andrew Bujalski or Joe Swanberg – but Like So Many Things possesses all the above qualities: a two-actors-and-a-camera cost overhead, dialogue-dependent camera angles, inarticulate and gawky romantic leads played by Greg Keller and Marin Gazzaniga (the latter is co-founder of the company, ThisThing Films, that produces the series), and lines like this:

Karl (spotting Lucy from across the street): Hey! Hey!
Lucy: Hey.
Karl: Long time, no see.
Lucy: What?
Karl: You want to know who I am?
Lucy: I know.
Karl: I shaved. How’re you doing?
Lucy: Okay.
Karl: What?
Lucy: Okay.
Karl: You’re okay?
Lucy: Yeah.
Karl: That’s good.
Lucy: Yeah.
Karl: We should get a drink sometime.
Lucy: Okay.
(Long pause.)
Karl: What are you doing now?

No, it’s not vintage Samuel Beckett, it’s what currently passes in Mumblecore for a “realistic” portrayal of contemporary relationships: mundane, quotidian talk buttressed here and there by conversation about…relationships.

The problem with such dialogue is that it’s stylization. Really, it’s just as contrived at anything else that attempts to imitate the untranslatable messiness of life. And is all the more conspicuous – and perhaps hypocritical – for pretending that “this is how people really talk,” or something to that end. Like So Many Things never quite transcends this problem.

The story of the series so far goes like this: in episode 1, “Like So Many Things . . . Unsaid,” Karl (Keller) and Lucy (Gazzaniga) meet at a bar one night. Karl walks Lucy home, though whether he rejects her or she him is debated when the two run into each other months later in episode 2, “Future Days, Future Nights.” Not much has changed except Karl’s facial hair: she’s defensively peevish, he’s uncouth, weird (he yells for no reason), and not a little annoying.

Nonetheless the two generate tentative (and still awkward) sparks in episode 3, “Mister,” where Karl talks about his previous relationship with an unreliable gambling addict. This leads to Lucy’s place again in episode 4, “Hot Coffee,” drinking and a soul-baring q & a in episode 5, “11 Things to Do at Home with a Stranger,” awful sex and Lucy’s daydreams of her former boyfriend in episode 6, “Where Is My Mind?“, and Karl’s staying on, at Lucy’s request, and cooking breakfast the morning after in episode 7, “Eggs and Bacon.”

Like So Many ThingsThe first and only real question about Like So Many Things is the obvious one: do we care about these characters? Barely, I would say. Nothing in the first two episodes made me believe that Karl and Lucy were worth my time despite Keller’s spirited performance as the unsubtle flirt, but episode 3’s conversation about whether Karl deliberately if unconsciously attracts difficult women out of some inner perversity is interesting enough to briefly engage, and actually hits at how different philosophies often bring out the worst in male-female interaction.

Episode 4’s split screen of Lucy washing her feet and Karl looking through her things is interesting enough visually, but episodes 5 through 7 peter out with forced “getting to know you” conversations (what are the chances that any two people have actually seen Ishtar, let alone can recite dialogue by heart?) and painful-to-watch bedroom failures that are more reminiscent of other independent movies and their quirky conventions than the intimate clumsiness and embarrassments the series so desperately wishes to depict. And so, like so many things Mumblecore, Like So Many Things is an admirable but ultimately disposable effort.