HE'S ONLY THREE FEATURES deep into his directing career, but Andrew Bujalski already has a cross to bear, namely "mumblecore." Part of a cliquey indie filmmaking scene, Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation) and his peers have been hyped and vilified for their talky, Cassavetes-esque, no-budget movies starring their non-professional friends. But while many of these early works are problematically naïve, more recent mumblecore flicks like Humpday—and now Bujalski's latest, Beeswax—are developing the ideas behind what worked, gradually shaking off the self-obsessed sensibility, and offering unvarnished realism without trying to compensate for their plainness with shock or drama. These are small, relatively uneventful stories about approachable, unglamorous people—but the talent involved is what makes them work.
Not a lot happens in Beeswax—and what does is none of yours—but it's nonetheless compelling to follow the gentle ups and downs of Jeannie (Tilly Hatcher). Co-owner of a small vintage store in Austin, she worries that her business partner is going to sue her, re-entangles herself with friendly ex-boyfriend Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), and pals around with her identical twin Lauren (Maggie Hatcher). Jeannie's paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair, but this movie's not about that—one of the most likeable things about this film is its nonchalance regarding this aspect of Jeannie's life, drawing the audience into the routine normalcy of living with a physical handicap.
As movie stars go, these characters are dorks in dumpy clothes; a parade of weak chins and belly rolls that defy Hollywood's insistence that only the toned and tanned are fit to carry your interest. In fact, it's the sisters' habit of screwing up their faces, and Merrill's strangely withered upper lip, that only add to the interest we take—as if Bujalski's pointing out how fascinating, in its rarity, normalcy has become.