Director Jay Duplass uses the natural intimacy with his brother to great effect in The Puffy Chair, an indie rom-com that borders on the bane of the 2000s’ cinema fad: mumblecore. Thankfully, the Duplasses know how to pull just the best traits of the mumblecore movement out and employ them for their own work. Actors are everyday people is the main m-core method here, and actually, the acting is rather superb. It’s effortless and unnoticeable to the audience. The home movie camera work is the other side of that coin though, with hundreds of zooms and way too much reliance on the auto focus feature, the Duplasses film has the feeling of any minute the characters turning to look in the lens and say “Hi, Mom!”
The best part of The Puffy Chair is the final scenes. It’s meaningful and the characters are actually incredibly likable in spite of their individual issues and selfishness. Watching the film is like sitting through a therapy session and reflecting on all the traits you don’t like about yourself and/or how badly you handle relationships because of aforementioned issues and selfishness. The movie could be considered a lot of things: a road movie is one of them. Again, the filmmakers know how to utilize the critical moments from such a genre and manipulate them into their own.
The main characters are Josh (Mark Duplass) and Emily (played wonderfully by Kathryn Aselton whom you may recognize from other, less interesting indie rom-coms like The Freebie). Emily is supposed to appear pretty high maintenance, but in reality it feels more like she is just not a person who is happy with her life. She is trying to convince herself she is happy with Josh, but his lack of romanticism and general depiction of unconcern for others is preventing her from getting closer. At one point in their trip we’re introduced to his brother, a wannabe free spirit (and unconvincing, at that), who videotapes chameleons in the yard. It’s interesting because Emily finds herself fascinated with the videotape of the lizard all the while never realizing that her boyfriend is exactly that: a chameleon. Josh is a manipulator and the image of whatever you want him to be, and Emily is just starting to see this. Even his motives are not unique to him; when Emily walks out one night, he shows up the next morning holding a radio up over his head outside his window in his best Say Anything impression.
By the end of their road trip and the end of the film, there are a number ways the story could go, and the story takes the most appropriate one for the characters. While you can’t really watch this film and say it’s perfect or flawless, you can say it’s important, relevant and humble. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it humblecore.