Mumblecore as a genre is not particularly difficult to define. Primarily you have a small, intimate cast of characters, low budget production, in a film that relies heavily on dialogue to tell the story without the use of gimmicky plot devices or a great deal of action. Typically, the casts are not professional actors or actors with a small amount of experience.
While Andrew Bujalski heralded the Mumblecore genre, auteurs like John Cassevetes and Eric Rohmer’s work have definitely served as a precursor to the movement. Both directors made deeply personal films that relied on relationships between cast members and naturalistic dialogue. It should be noted here that Mumblecore films have a narrow range of audience in mind and may not have wide appeal for certain people.
The realism and everyday situations that are portrayed in this film usually depict a slice of life that some people find relatable. Many times they can be very whimsical or insanely absurd, but the reality is that life is often a reflection of these things. They are full of humor but make you cringe at the same time. Mark Duplass, Joe Swanberg, and Greta Gerwig are good representatives of Mumblecore films as of late. The genre is growing so here is a list that showcases some of the best movies that Mumblecore has to offer.
20. Funny Ha Ha (2002)
Andrew Bujalski has been credited with starting the Mumblecore movement. 2015’s Results has been a hit at film fest circuits. Bujalski does a great job of selecting lesser-known actors and casting non-professional actors as well. Funny Ha Ha is Bujalski’s first full-length film and set the groundwork for the genre, as we know it today.
Marnie (Kate Dollenmayer) epitomizes the term slacker. She graduated from college but is content to settle for temporary jobs. She still parties like she did in college in her quest to find love. She flits around from guy to guy, not really being serious about anything. Her prospects for both romance and finances look bleak and she floats about life in her early 20s.
Bujalski has advanced quite a bit as a director since his debut film. This movie is really raw and honest and is emblematic of Gen X’s quest for meaning during this time period. It is about as close to real life as is gets. There are no crescendos to some huge climax or any major revelations about anything. It is just a series of events that happen to a young woman drifting through life. It’s a movie about the spaces in between those slices of life that we assign meaning.
19. Uncle Kent 2 (2015)
The makers of this film want you to know that you don’t have to have seen Uncle Kent in order to appreciate Uncle Kent 2. They are correct in this assertion. There are definitely some complete WTF films that have been floating around some film festivals this year (Roar, The Astrologer) but Uncle Kent 2 is one of the more bizarre, but absolutely fun times you will have in a theatre.
Joe Swanberg directed Uncle Kent in 2011, which looks at the life of Kent Osbourne, an animator who has worked on Spongebob Squarepants and Adventure Time. In a self-referential nod to Uncle Kent, Osbourne talks to Swanberg at a party about some ideas he has for Uncle Kent 2.
Swanberg is not really on board with making a sequel but Osbourne is really excited about this prospect. Swanberg talks about how Hollywood is already saturated with sequels and that there’s no point in doing a sequel. Osbourne is undeterred and has a trip scheduled to a comic convention in San Diego. He confronts a weird tear in the space/time continuum and what ensues is probably the most insane thing you will see on film.
Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies, Happy Christmas) has brought us some memorable Mumblecore films and this is definitely an unforgettable film. The meta aspect of creating the sequel and the mix of animation and live action sequences makes for an interesting amalgam of experiences. This is a short film at less than 80 minutes but is worth the watch with a group of friends just to process what in the world you just watched.
18. Humpday (2009)
Mark Duplass is arguably the better known Duplass brother at this point (Zero Dark Thirty, The Skeleton Twins). Mark and Jay Duplass formed the production company, Duplass Brothers Productions and created the HBO series, Togetherness. While they haven’t been credited with creating the Mumblecore genre, they have definitely produced some of the more popular films within the movement.
Andrew (Joshua Leonard) shows up one night at Ben’s (Mark Duplass) door. Andrew and Ben were college roommates. Andrew lives a relatively bohemian life style and was recently traveling in Chiapas. Since he drops by unexpectedly, Ben and his wife Anna (Alycia Delmore) put him up for a few nights. Andrew hasn’t actually seen Ben and Anna since the wedding so he came to Seattle to hang out for a while.
Ben and Anna live a more straight-laced lifestyle in comparison to Andrew and are working on having a baby. Instead of spending time with them to catch up, Andrew drags Ben along to a party with a bunch of artists that he just met. Some of them will be participating in an amateur porn fest called Humpfest. In an ill thought, drunken state, the two men decide they will participate in the fest by creating an art project where they, two straight men, will have sex with each other.
This film is challenging on several levels. It really takes on the “bro” trope in many buddy comedies. How far are you really willing to go for a friend? Needless to say, Andrew and Ben spend a lot of time talking about this. A lot of time. Most of the dialogue is improvised and it is about as natural as it comes for such an awkward situation. As absurd as they premise is of the film, it explores something very human and emotional and represents the genre very well.
17. Drinking Buddies (2013)
Joe Swanberg just might be the Prince of Mumblecore if there ever was such a thing. He wrote and directed this comedy starring Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick. If romantic comedies are not your thing, you will probably really enjoy this film. Ron Livingston fans will also love his performance in this movie. This film also offers more laughs than your average Mumblecore film.
Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) work together at a microbrewery in Chicago. They are great friends and spend a lot of time flirting at work and drinking with friends at night. They would make an awesome couple on paper if not for the fact that Luke has a girlfriend of six years who is eager to get married and Kate is dating someone as well.
At a brewery party, Chris (Ron Livingston), Kate’s boyfriend, invites Luke and his girlfriend, Jill (Anna Kendrick) to his family’s cottage for a weekend getaway. As each character spends time with the other’s respective significant other, temptation begins to grow and alcohol blurs both judgment and boundaries.
Anna Kendrick has the ability to nail any role that she takes and her performance in this film is no different. Olivia Wilde does a great job being the fleeting “cool girl” that men dream about. It also tackles relationships and the idea that you can always do better in a hilariously biting way. The dialogue is very well written and it really is an underrated film. Relationships are portrayed in a very realistic manner through solid performances and attention to detail. It’s not a first date kind of film but one that should be seen nonetheless.
16. Cyrus (2010)
John C. Reilly could be described as one of the best character actors of his generation. He has a lot of depth and flexibility and his range goes a lot deeper than that. He is hilarious in his role in Cyrus. Part of his success in this role is having Jonah Hill as his foil. Their quibbling and banter in this film really makes the movie a success.
Another entry by the Duplass brothers, Cyrus is a romantic comedy of sorts. John C. Reilly plays John, a lonely divorcé who just found out that his ex-wife is remarrying. His marriage broke up seven years ago but has really been unable to get his romantic affairs back on track. He is trying desperately to connect with someone and embark upon a new relationship.
After being invited to a party by his ex-wife, he reluctantly agrees but manages to meet the woman of his dreams, Molly, played by Marisa Tomei. What John does not count on is Molly’s 21 year-old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill) having an unusually close relationship with his mother. Cyrus seems innocent enough at first but it becomes quickly apparent that he is not about to allow John to get involved with his mother. This film presents viewers with a different kind of love triangle and some really great, improvised performances.
There is definitely dramatic tension in this film but the humor undercuts it from time to time. John C. Reilly natural sad sack disposition makes him the perfect fit for this role. Marisa Tomei carries a fine balance of John’s love interest and playing the doting mother of Cyrus. This film is just as heartbreaking as it is funny and another showcase for the talented Duplass brothers.
15. Passenger Side (2009)
This film is about as indie as they come. There is no shortage of quirk and it happens to have one of the best soundtracks in the last ten years. Written and directed by Matt Bissonnette, this film is surprisingly funny and filled with quirk. This was a bit of a sleeper hit at film festivals in the states. Fans of “Parks and Rec” will really appreciate Adam Scott’s performance in this film.
Michael Brown (Adam Scott) receives a telephone from his estranged brother on his birthday. Tobey (Joel Bissonnette) has struggled with drug addiction along with other blows that life has dealt. He is not aware that it is his brother’s birthday. Tobey’s car is on the fritz and he needs Michael to drive him around L.A. on some errands with the hopes of completing some secretive quest that he won’t divulge to Michael. They engage in ridiculous conversations and encounter the kind of weird people you would expect in a film about the absurd side of life in L.A.
This film is really very sweet and poignant at its core. It is your prototypical Mumblecore film, but it’s also a road movie and a movie about the bond between brothers. Michael ends up having revelations about his own life through his interactions with others in addition to his brother that fateful day. This is a fun movie despite some of the subject matter and a soundtrack that you will want on your next road trip.