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Young American Bodies

I had to find out via Greencine that Joe Swanberg, creator of my favorite IFFBoston film LOL, has been shooting a mini-soap opera for called Young American Bodies. Not sure how I missed this before. At any rate go check it out, it’s interesting. Not safe for work though–lots of graphic sex, lots of penises (including Swanberg’s) and breasts. I like that we are seeing more penises in films these days. Go penises!

Greencine also has an extensive compare/contrast between Swanberg and Andrew Bujalksi, which defends Swanberg against accusations of being “Bujalski-light.” I myself, if you recall, wrote upon seeing LOL that it seemed Bujalski-like, and then when I saw that Bujalski himself makes an appearance in the film, that confirmed it for me. So the compare/contrast/defense is certainly appropriate. I’m not sure that pinning the difference on the fact that Swanberg’s characters lie to each other while Bujalski’s struggle to tell the truth is a big enough distinction to make the case, though. To me that seems more of a socioeconomic distinction. Bujalski’s characters are Harvard kids, well-groomed and well-mannered and overthinking and overanalyzing everything and therefore sidestepping most primal drives. They’re always striving first and foremost to be honorable. But they can be just as cruel to each other, only indirectly or unconsciously. In Funny Ha Ha Bujalski’s character is fucked with by the girl he has a crush on–after turning him down for a date she seems to have forgotten about his feelings for her and actively seeks out his companionship in a way that, to the viewer, and to Bujalski’s character as well, is completely exploitive. He knows what she’s doing to him, yet he is powerless to resist. He’s the beta male and she’s the alpha female. An alpha female who is in exactly the same position with a guy she has a crush on, so she should know better. When Bujalksi one afternoon inexplicably throws a bottle of beer off her porch, shattering it on her neighbor’s porch below, angering her but unable to explain to her why he did it, I understoood. It’s an (inappropriate) outlet for his unspoken frustration, but any rupture of this placid, polite, well-spoken facade is not allowed in this world. He apologizes profusely for his indiscretion, but the viewer is left wishing he’d smash a few more bottles, so weary are we of the characters’ relentless restraint.

Swanberg’s characters, on the other hand, don’t have the burden of this constant restraint. They give in to their impulses. They have personality disorders. They fight and yell and call each other assholes. They lie and cheat and are insensitive pricks. They overanalyze and talk things to death as well, but it doesn’t necessarily stop them from behaving “inappropriately.” A character tossing a beer bottle off a porch in a Swanberg film would not likely cause such a ruckus. Or if it did, someone would call him an asshole. Perhaps it’s overly reductive to attribute it to socioeconomic factors (and possibly wrong, of course, because I don’t have any idea what is the socioeconomic status of Swanberg’s characters, though I know they’re not Harvard kids). It could just as easily be attributed to regional differences–Boston is a very head-oriented city, not a very body-oriented city. There’s not a whole lot of primal going on here. People from other areas come here and find people cold and distant and well-mannered, boring, they find it difficult to socialize outside structured groups. But Harvard’s presence, and the presence of privilege in general, has a lot to do with that. Swanberg’s characters are in Chicago, a city I don’t know much about but as far as I know it doesn’t have the chilly and dowdy reputation that Boston does. A friend from LA came here to attend grad school at MIT and when she went home this summer she had to explain to all her friends why she looks so unkempt since going to MIT. “If it doesn’t make me smarter, I don’t need it in Cambridge,” she said.

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