There There, 2022.
Written and Directed by Andrew Bujalski.
Starring Jason Schwartzman, Lili Taylor, Molly Gordon, Lennie James, Avi Nash, Annie LaGanga, Roy Nathanson, and Jon Natchez.
A lover’s doubt in the cold light of morning leads a chain of uneasy intimacies–counselors, disruptors, peacemakers and fire-starters–every one looking to have a little faith rewarded.
Anyone even remotely paying attention to writer/director Andrew Bujalski’s There There will immediately notice something is off. The film begins with unnamed characters, played by Lenny James and Lili Taylor, waking up in the same bed. As they discuss how he ended up in her home and her bed, conversing about what they want to do going forward, the amount of shot reverse shot continuously piles up to such a degree that it’s clear the actors are not on screen together.
Even before that, things feel fishy if one ponders the size of the bed in an otherwise small room to make any of this work. There is pandemic filmmaking, and then there are embarrassingly stitched-together conversations of characters talking that feel so stilted and awkward that one has to question the entire point of this. All movies are technically unnecessary, but There There is a rare film that also feels that it was a waste of time to make, let alone for anyone to suffer through watching.
Andrew Bujalski might have been able to get away with this if the conversations were compelling, and in his defense, this dialogue between the hook-up participants does start interesting. The man was more confident and assured about seeing one another again, suggesting ideas on how to spend the morning, whereas the woman is inside her head entrance regarding commitment. There’s also some playful banter accusing each other of possibly being a murderer and joking about how the other would kill them. Unfortunately, the scene also goes on for approximately 15 minutes, which is about seven minutes too long.
Then there is a transition into the next scene, revealing There There to be an anthology that focuses on a different character in each sequence, typically centering on whatever character was introduced in the previous segment. This means that in addition to blossoming relationships, there are chapters involving a meeting with an AA sponsor (Annie LaGanga), a disrespected and undervalued teacher (Molly Gordon), a lawyer (Jason Schwartzman) handling a case of online sexual abuse stemming from the school, the owner of the website where such explicit and illegal content was uploaded (Avi Nash), and some more bizarre attempts at character interaction I won’t spoil. Eventually, the foam circles back to a sequence between the man from the beginning and the young teacher.
There is not a second we don’t feel bad for these actors, desperately trying to spark engagement even though the deck is stacked against them (and not just because they are essentially talking to no one, but also the shoddy production design and hideous visuals drowning out the color). There There isn’t necessarily hiding the fact that no one is actually on screen together, as Andrew Bujalski appears to be going for thematic subtext, considering all of these scenes involve characters that are friendly enough but can also never get on the same page. The film undeniably works slightly brighter when these conversations take place online rather than trying to fake characters being in the same room for failed artistic purposes. This is a torturous exercise in tedium and is easily among one of the most painful pandemic-era movies ever made.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]