As Andrew Bujalski’s “Beeswax” opens in limited release tomorrow, the Internet is ablaze with discussions of the film and the relationship with the genre to which Bujalski has been named the father, “mumblecore.” To quote David Denby’s New Yorker explanation for the uninitiated of the critic-constructed genre, “Mumblecore movies are made by buddies, casual and serious lovers, and networks of friends, and they’re about college-educated men and women who aren’t driven by ideas or by passions or even by a desire to make their way in the world. Neither rebels nor bohemians, they remain stuck in a limbo of semi-genteel, moderately hip poverty, though some of the films end with a lurch into the working world. The actors (almost always nonprofessionals) rarely say what they mean; a lot of the time, they don’t know what they mean. The movies tell stories but they’re also a kind of lyrical documentary of American stasis and inarticulateness.”
In a Salon post-mortem on the genre, Andrew O’Hehir says, “‘Mumblecore’ has had a short and unhappy life as a film genre, and it’s time to shoot it in the head. I’m 100 percent certain that critics J. Hoberman and Dennis Lim, two of the smartest writers in the business, didn’t mean the term to be belittling or pejorative when they simultaneously launched it into media circulation two summers ago.” He goes on to say that “Beeswax” is definitely not mumblecore, and lists his reasons: “It is shot on film (as were Bujalski’s earlier works), not on video. It is a meticulously scripted, shot and edited movie, not a work of improvisation or an impromptu group collaboration. More important, while Bujalski is definitely trying to capture aspects of ordinary life rarely seen on-screen, the life glimpsed in ‘Beeswax’ is completely different from stereotypical mumblecore concerns. His characters are not parasitical denizens of some hipster ghetto but, of all things, adults struggling to balance complicated lives in a capitalist society while remaining decent.”
In his Entertainment Weekly blog, Owen Gleiberman takes up the same question, “Is Beeswax a mumblecore film? At this point, a better question to ask might be: When a movie by Andrew Bujalski opens, does it make a sound?” Ouch! The rest of his attack on Bujalski and mumblecore is unclear on the correlation between the two and says little about his thoughts on the film. His B- review is on the EW website. It ends, “There are fine, fresh observational moments, but the film is much ado about not so much.”
In a recent Paste interview with Jeffrey Bloomer, Bujalski was asked about the difference between his previous two films and “Beeswax” in a way that hinted at a strip of his mumblecore roots. He didn’t take the bait. “Paste: There also seemed to be a thematic evolution going on; it seemed like they were getting older, and this movie is maybe your first about actual adult lives. Bujalski: I don’t like to do too much looking back and critical assessment of my own films, but certainly, if there’s any theme running through the three films, it would be fear of encroaching adulthood, and each film represents some stage of that.”
J. Hoberman, in the Village Voice, champions the film and the movement, “Following the smash success of Lynn Shelton’s ‘Humpday’ and The New Yorker‘s catch-up report on the ‘mumblecore genre,’ ‘Beeswax’ marks the year’s third triumph for the little movement that could—and also its passing into the Amerindie mainstream.” So too with Spout Blog’s Karina Longworth, who manages not to mention the word “mumblecore” within her review. “Bujalski’s third film moves away from messy, non-committal ‘mumbling,’ in order to cleverly examine the double-speak of slang, simile and idiom that flows through American conversation without interrogation. As a moniker for this crayon-colorful (and beautifully shot by regular DP Matthias Grunsky) comedy steeped in colloquial American English, the title ‘Beeswax’ feels less like a metaphor for anything bees do in public, than a veiled reference to private lives – as in, ‘mind your own beeswax.'”
Bujalski’s name may never be disassociated from the “mumblecore” label, but critics seem to be evolving their relationship with the term. Most seem to be using the “m-word” as a pejorative, but this comes at the same time that Bujalski is being noted as a growing or, at least, changing director.