a million miles from van gogh's ear

Above: will make up avant-garde film movement for food.

LOL. (2006). Dir. Joe Swanberg. Written by Swanberg, Kevin Bewersdorf, C. Mason Wells. Starring Swanberg, Bewersdorf, Wells, Brigid Reagan, Tipper Netwon.

My initial reaction to LOL was so strong and so negative that the only response I felt I could grasp at were insults: insults, along the line of, “only an acrobatic group-lesbian-strap-on sex scene featuring seven or eight of the Suicide Girls or the on-screen resurrection of a fully ambulatory Christopher Reeve could possibly redeem this film.” This bothered me, though. Not that I’d prefer to be watching a half dozen of the Suicide Girls screw each other with fake dicks, but that parody was the only thing I could muster when confronted with something so painfully insipid. As they say in action movies, this would make me no better than the monsters who committed this awful deed. I came to realize instead that I needed to Rise Above. Yes - meet horror and outrage with dignity, or at least something resembling it.

So: LOL is a glimpse into the lives of a group of peripherally-related, early-twentysomethings in Someplace, Chicago, a circle of friends drifting in and out of orbit around one dewey-eyed uber-indie musician. They have conversations with people we don’t see on their cels, they meet other moppet-haired twentysomethings in drawn-out, obviously unscripted scenes, they watch extremely attractive young actresses take their clothes off in staged amateur online porn, and they have more conversations with people we don’t see on their cels. Indeed, a considerable chunk of every scene begins with someone deeply absorbed by a computer, or a cell phone, or something you plug in. I have no doubt that’s supposed to mean something, but it’s a something that’s only kinda-sorta glanced at, not even a point that gets made or exploited or anything else you do with points in a movie, really.

I have an impression that LOL (and maybe in a larger sense the rest of the “mumblecore” movement this film locates itself in) has aspirations towards something like Dogme 95. But purveyors of the latter attempted to blow up conventions of filmmaking they believed had become crusted over with corny, technological tricks and still tell a story, and LOL doesn’t much care for story or plot or characters or entertainment, but to only make vague gestures in the direction of nihilism and youth culture. I’ve seen references to Seinfeld and Cassavetes and Cronenberg and the flourishing of new fresh viewpoints on the net, and I really do wish I could make space in my own evaluation of this movie for all of that – I mean, I don’t want to miss the Van Gogh Boat either - but man, I just ain’t seeing it (and this is coming from someone who beats off a whole helluva lot and is bored a fair share of his waking life). Write-ups in the New York Times and Village Voice are totally awesome and whatever, but last I checked story and acting and a modicum of skill with a camera counts for something, too.

This rush to anoint these kids, and this movie, a movement made me angry. No, more than just angry - LOL made me wish there was a military draft right now and that the young filmmakers who were flogging these cheesily improvised scenes of post-adolescent sexual discomfort and guileless boredom with gadget-laden lives weren’t instead swept up to some sandblown hellpit in the Middle East so that they could return many years later with some real issues and things to work out; or wonder that, per the ancient Chinese curse, we live in probably one of the most interesting times one can hope/dread to experience, and these kids still believe that as artists they lack for content or themes beyond masturbation and one-sided cell phone convos but are still bold enough to declare their stuff part of a movement; or that I had finally gazed into the abyss of white privilege I’ve been hearing about all this time since going back to college, and it left me feeling cold, and empty, and guilty, and made me yearn for the deliberate and careful wisdom of Louis Farrakhan or Alan Keyes. But I owe you more than to actually post all that...

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