Review: Conversations Become Compelling in iPhone-made There There

Writer/director Andrew Bujalski seems to go out of his way not to repeat himself, both in terms of subject matter and the way in which he shoots his unique movies (Funny Ha Ha, Computer Chess, and his last work, 2018’s terrific Support the Girls). His latest effort, There There (which he also edited) was shot by his usual cinematographer, Matthias Grunsky, entirely on iPhones. The film is made up of a series of short-film dialogues between two characters, with one of the pair carrying over into the next vignette. If I understand the way this film was made, each person in these two-person scenes was shot separately, with Bujalski editing things together to seem like both people are in a conversation. That is taking COVID restrictions to the nth degree, but if you don’t know that the filmmaker and actors did that going in, it’s tough to tell because each exchange feels intimate and gripping in a way that can only be accomplished by putting two people in the same space.

There There opens strong, with a morning-after sequence between Lili Taylor and Lennie James. Taylor’s character is immediately nervous about the implications of having brought someone home (something she hasn’t done in quite some time) but excited about the prospects of seeing this man again. It’s a scene that manages to be both endearing and a bit sad because Taylor is so anxious, she may be scaring off this person she would clearly like to continue dating. Taylor transitions into the next scene, this time with her AA sponsor (a biting performance by Annie La Ganga, who does more with a look than most can do with pages of a screenplay). 

La Ganga moves into the next segment, involving her meeting/confrontation with her son’s teacher (Molly Gordon, a standout in Booksmart), which is both hilarious and tense. You get the idea. There’s another segment with Jason Schwartzman playing a lawyer, which I found a bit tedious, and the entire thing loops back around to Lennie James, who turns out to be a bar owner, meeting with Gordon’s teacher character, ending her nerve-wracking meeting with several drinks with coworkers. There are also filmed musical interludes featuring Jon Natchez that last just long enough for viewers to take in what they’ve just seen and brace themselves for what’s to come. 

Each character is meant to represent something different in society and with us—there are those that thrive during interpersonal interactions and those that crumble; some have faith in themselves, while others never have in life; and there are those looking to disrupt the world, with others looking to bring peace, even if that peace is only between two people. Bujalski’s goals are modest (and he doesn’t always achieve them), but it’s difficult to deny the power of a conversation, even if that conversation is manufactured with editing software. I was more impressed with There There than I am in love with it, but it is another successful example of a filmmaker taking pandemic-era restrictions and making something unique and modestly fulfilling out of them.

The film now playing in select theaters, and available on demand.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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