It is to my heart’s delight that these types of Indy-real films, which graced almost exclusively the narrow confines of the Sundance channel just three years ago are leaking into the mainstream. I think this is because people are fed up with worn-out plotlines, perfectionism and CGI. It's all got us feeling less than adequate ... this combines with a collective, overwhelming need to get real.
The Duplass brothers* are frontrunners in this real-life, weird-is-the-new-normal movement. And their 2005 release “The Puffy Chair,” is at once a testament to the complications and the hilarity of everyday life.
The story kicks off with a conversation between a couple who are dating but who've obviously reached an unconscious yet obvious-to-the-observer crossroads in their relationship. When, in the opening scene, Emily (Katie Aselton) violently removes her dinner plate from their romantic dinner table while her boyfriend Josh (Mark Duplass) sits across from her and talks guy with a friend through a cell earphone, we know our souls will find some satisfaction in this film.
Hooked into the characters, we then observe them heading off on a road trip so that Josh can retrieve a puffy purple chair that he found on E-bay and surprise his dad with it on his birthday. Along the way, they decide to stop in at his brothers "for a quick chat."
The brother, Rhett (Rhett Wilkins) is promptly sketched out as pretty removed from the mainstream of human ambition. Dead-head long lags in speech, strong tendencies toward alienating esoteric lines of reason and his fascination with a video he took of a lizard on a bit of foliage are stacked neatly on top of one another during his intro. He’s really out there, and we want to know how this will mix with the plan.
Of course he wants to go along for the ride, which creates another twist in the already-worn wire connecting Emily and Josh, but she roles with it.
A kaleidoscope of action ensues:
Emily and Rhett being forced into awkward positions, including peeing in a bottle in the van, so that Josh can save 10 bucks on a cheap motel.
A shotgun, illegitimate wedding—complete with a hand-picked daisy bouquet and a speech by Josh that is unsuspectingly moving—and next-morning divorce between Rhett and an earthy-sweet yet unsettling woman he meets in a movie theatre. Note the most award-winningly hilarious, and unbelievably long, lingering lovers-dance scene ever made.
An argument in a hotel room between Josh and Emily that is sharply poignant in its illumination of the complicated web of reasons that couples find themselves embroiled in when things are not really working out.
Solid-gold dialogue between Josh and the guy who sold the chair, and the resulting cathartic scene wherein Josh has to summon his inner dragon to retrieve the thing from a reupholster’s shop.
I won’t spoil what happens to the chair in the end, but let’s just say that Rhett is involved, and it’s almost, but not quite, spiritual.
The conversation between Josh and his dad is particularly enlightening and is followed by a resolution between Josh and Emily.
Where’s the plot, you ask? It’s there. Sitting on the chair. It’s all about trying to make something work when all along it’s really not.
This is not a feel-good film on its surface at all. In fact, it’s more of a roll-on-the-floor in agony because it’s such an awkward experience that, over the days you process it, will have you feeling good that you are not alone. Indeed, others are strange, too. Because strange is not so strange after all. In fact, strange is the new real.
PS: Mark Duplass is one hot cookie, IMO … mmmm, enjoy!
*Special thanks to my sister who went so far as to ship two Duplass Brothers movies to me overseas recently.