Mutual Appreciation at the Red Vic

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of taking time away from the work at my computer in order to go enjoy a press screening of Mutual Appreciation at the Red Vic Movie House. I have to admit that I didn’t even look twice at what the movie was before accepting the chance to go, because I always take advantage of every opportunity I can to stop in at the Red Vic. The movie theater, run primarily on the love of volunteers, offers a break from the real world in a cozy environment where creativity thrives.

Admittedly, there was a two-fold reason that I hadn’t paid too much attention to what I’d be seeing before I went. In addition to the fact that I knew I’d enjoy the experience because it was at the Red Vic, I also know that I tend to feel like independent films are very hit and miss for me. I grew up loving them – I was one of those kids who simply did not watch Hollywood movies. But after years of seeing film after film at festivals and independent theatres, I came to the conclusion that just because something is independently made doesn’t mean it’s good. As such, I tend to be more wary than I once was about going to see such films.

It was a hit with this one for me. Mutual Appreciation had my attention every step of the way. The story line is average (but what movie’s isn’t really?) but the cinematography and acting are far superior to what I would have expected. All of the characters in this movie come across as very genuine. Rachel Clift, as the girlfriend and object of desire, offers the most compelling performance. Every line she says sounds like she just thought it up in conversation with you right then. Every member of the cast comes across as a real person with whom you could be engaged in personal interaction; they don’t come across as people who are acting but merely as people who are being.

The risk that such a cast takes, of course, is that the movie will come across as something filmed at home, rather than as a polished piece. Mutual Appreciation survives that risk. The film is in black and white, and there are occasional moments when the angles of shots create shadows and lighting problems which are a little bit distracting, but all in all, the piece comes across as astoundingly professional. Watching the film, I felt like I was completely immersed in the lives of the characters – as if there was not a screen between us at all – which I think is one of the most difficult-to-obtain achievements for a filmmaker.

At a surface level, the film is about a young musician trying to make it in New York, and the friendship he is developing with his best friend’s girlfriend. At that age, artistic people often struggle with human interaction – it feels awkward and difficult for some of us – and the film captures that feeling in so many of its scenes. But more than that, the film conveys true human dilemmas with real emotion, emotion which doesn’t come across as contrived at all. The film ends somewhat abruptly, but even that came across as natural – it felt like I was saying good bye to good friends that I’d see again tomorrow, rather than that I’d just watched a film that ended.

Mutual Appreciation is the second feature film by Andrew Bujalski, a twenty-something filmmaker who plays the best friend in this movie. The film plays at the Red Vic from September 29th through October 8th and Bujalski will be present the first three evenings of the show. Even if you decide you don’t like the movie, the Red Vic is always worth checking out!

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