• Film ID:
  • 18128
  • Availability:
  • DVD Available from Shop
  • Film cert:
  • Running time:
  • DVD=83 min.
  • Nationality(ies):
  • America.
  • Primary Language(s):
  • English.

“I wanted to be the funny one,” laments the title character of “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” “and I’m never the funny one.” That’s not true. As played by the actress-writer Greta Gerwig, Hannah is neurotic, sweet and mildly sarcastic, in a Gen Y-Diane Keaton sort of way, and her small-stakes odyssey through three relationships is wryly observed. That said, “Hannah,” the third feature by the Chicago writer-director-editor Joe Swanberg, is less notable for its story than for what the movie itself represents: an evolutionary entry in the so-called Do It Yourself (or D.I.Y.) independent film movement, which is being celebrated this week in Greenwich Village in an IFC Film Center series titled “The New Talkies: Generation D.I.Y.” This wave of microbudget filmmaking is distinguished by its low-fi production values (16-millimeter film or, more often, video); its overwhelmingly white, college-educated, myopic and aimless characters; its improvised camerawork, plots and dialogue; and its preference for fleeting observations over huge epiphanies. Eric Masunaga — a sound recordist for a leading D.I.Y. filmmaker, Andrew Bujalski (“Mutual Appreciation”) — coined a memorable term to describe it: mumblecore. “Hannah” grew out of a summer 2006 collaboration between Ms. Gerwig, Mr. Swanberg and a few notable American D.I.Y. directors. All acted in the movie and contributed to the screenplay, transforming what might otherwise have been merely a slight but likable comedy into the D.I.Y. equivalent of a rock ’n’ roll supergroup: the mumblecore Asia. Hannah starts out in a decaying relationship with a recently unemployed young man named Mike, played by Mark Duplass, star and co-writer of the outstanding microbudget road picture “The Puffy Chair”. Mike takes Hannah to the shore, produces matching sets of vacuum-sealed goggles that can’t be opened by hand, then later attempts a “9 1/2 Weeks” sexual routine with ice cubes. Without consciously meaning to, Hannah de-eroticizes Mike’s maneuver by shivering dramatically, then co-opts the ice cubes and crunches them throughout their breakup conversation. Hannah’s second and third boyfriends, Paul and Matt, are played, respectively, by Mr. Bujalski and Kent Osborne, a former host of TBS’s “Movie Lounge” and the co-writer and star of the 2000 Sundance Film Festival entry “Dropping Out.” Mr. Bujalski, who plays Paul, is a wry, bespectacled, vaguely mentorish presence in his own movies and a cameo player in Mr. Swanberg’s second feature, the technological-romantic satire “LOL,”. Paul is the most talented writer at the Web site/film production office/whatever-it-is that employs Hannah. (You’re not quite certain what Mr. Swanberg’s characters do, because he is less likely to show them working than to depict them musing sardonically on their reluctance to work.) He at first seems a step up for Hannah: a gifted writer and an un-self-consciously affectionate lover. But he’s so busy with his career that he neglects her, allowing his buddy and unspoken creative rival, Matt (Mr. Osborne), to breeze in. Matt and Hannah bond over the fact that they both play trumpet, and their first collaboration, an all-thumbs duet of the “1812” Overture, seals the connection. For newcomers to D.I.Y., the movie’s snappy but unadventurous style — episodic structure, deadpan performances and raggedy, improvisational dialogue — makes it a less-than-ideal introduction. Better to start with Mr. Swanberg’s more daring “LOL,” with its mosaic-style split screens and complex overlapping dialogue, or Aaron Katz’s profane yet touching teenage sex comedy “Dance Party, USA”. For devotees of recent D.I.Y. moviemaking, “Hannah” will evoke melancholy feelings, and not just because the heroine finds (probably temporary) bliss without seriously examining her preconceptions. Mr. Bujalski is writing a movie for Paramount; Mr. Duplass and his brother and filmmaking partner, Jay Duplass, are writing and directing features for Universal and Fox Searchlight and have sold a television series to NBC; Mr. Swanberg and Ms. Gerwig are already finishing a new movie, and are so talented that they may not have to scrounge for financing for the next one. In light of all this, “Hannah” plays like an incidental swan song, a signpost marking the point when mumblecore became a nostalgic label rather than a present-tense cultural force, and its most acclaimed practitioners moved on to bigger things. Mr. Swanberg’s third movie is a graduation photo in motion: D.I.Y., class of ’07.

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