What will future generations of film folk make of the countless American indies made in the latter half of the twenty-first century’s inaugural decade that follow inarticulate youths as they graze absent-mindedly through overgrown fields of urban anomie? If these films are taken en masse, future sociocultural dissection may yield winning theories about a coddled generation, but on what level will they actually be enjoyed? Every era has its own claim on ennui and spiritual dislocation, especially trendy topics when paired with youthful hesitation and sexual confusion. But often such umbrella terms give unambitious artists license to justify their artistic lethargy on philosophical and aesthetic grounds—if the characters mope, so can the camera; if they’re inarticulate, then why bother writing dialogue? The tenets of realism become a black hole in which one can bury unnecessary details like story, momentum, motivation; staying on the surface equals ambiguity.
So does Bradley Rust Gray’s new Zoe Kazan vehicle The Exploding Girl come across like a story its filmmaker simply had to tell? Does it seem to contain a statement Gray simply had to make or a visual idea he had to express? Or does it just slot a mite too easily into a well-practiced movement currently hypnotizing American filmmakers from Andrew Bujalski to Joe Swanberg to Lynn Shelton and, to a lesser and more intriguing extent, So Yong Kim, Gray’s life partner? Read Michael Koresky’s review of The Exploding Girl.