Film Review: Beeswax

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Berlin International Film Festival -- Forum

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BERLIN -- The third time isn't much of a charm for over-hyped writer-director Andrew Bujalski with "Beeswax." After "Funny Ha Ha" and "Mutual Appreciation" -- which translated critical acclaim (some of it wildly over-enthusiastic) and festival awards into arthouse distribution in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere -- this is another rough-edged, noodling affair in which genial but frustratingly self-absorbed twenty- and thirty-somethings chatter on and on about their lives, loves and finances. There's clearly some kind of limited market for such stuff, but "Beeswax," mainly set in a kooky Austin vintage-clothing boutique, seems unlikely to expand it further.

The focus is on a pair of twin sisters: blonde, kind-of-brittle Jeannie, and brunette, easier-going Lauren, played by real-life siblings Tilly and Maggie Hatcher. Jeannie is manager/co-owner of Storyville, a downtown boutique retailing "second-hand and vintage" clothing, while Lauren drifts between teaching jobs. Jeannie is involved in a long-simmering dispute with Amanda (Anne Dodge), her partner in the store's ownership, and receives informal advice from her boyfriend, law-student Merrill (Alex Karpovsky). Minor mishaps duly ensue.

The Hatchers are fresh and appealing, and "Beeswax" captures the semi-articulate flow of conversation among a certain social type. Given Bujalski's reported discomfort at being so closely associated with the no-budget, relationships-focused mini-genre known as "mumblecore," however, one might have expected him to distance himself from such labels here. Not a bit of it: while they're educated and intelligent, nearly everyone has communication problems. The result is OK as it goes, but "Beeswax" is perfectly content to burble along through its 100 minutes without ever threatening to come up with much that's surprising, troubling or especially unpredictable.

It's surely no accident that the script's descriptions of the store -- "never be a major profit generator ... it generates a pretty modest income, reliably" -- also apply to the kind of movies Bujalski, it now seems safe to conclude, is happiest turning out. But "Beeswax," for all its low-key charms, is likely to mainly inspire exasperated "so what?" reactions among those who don't already count themselves members of the director's small but devoted fan-club. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the word (taken from the slang phrase "Mind your beeswax") is never once spoken aloud -- a touch that's typical of the arch, hipper-than-thou vibe that the picture exudes from first frame to last.

Director: Andrew Bujalski
Screenwriter: Andrew Bujalski
Producers: Ethan Voght, Dia Sokol
Executive producers: Houston King, Gary Stewart
Associate producer: Peggy Chen
Director of photography: Matthias Grunsky
Editor: Andrew Bujalski
Sales: Houston King, Los Angeles
No rating, 100 minutes