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Total pains in the ass: Aselton and Duplass in The Puffy Chair.

Too Close for Comfort

By John Rodat

The Puffy Chair

Directed by Jay Duplass

The concept of The Puffy Chair sounds like a cross between When Harry Met Sally and You, Me and Dupree: Cranky guy and naïve girl take a road trip, during which they pick up an unexpected companion, cranky guy’s younger brother, flaky guy. Of course, the low, low-budget Puffy Chair was an audience favorite at the Sundance festival, so there are some significant differences between it and those more-mainstream features. It’s better acted; it’s better written; and it’s less pandering. In a word, it’s more believable—which is part of the problem.

The Puffy Chair presents an entirely credible account of the tenuous romantic relationship between a couple of needy and/or self-absorbed 20-somethings; perhaps too credible for the comfort of those of us not long out of our own needy, self-absorbed 20-something-ish relationships. Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass—the director and writer-star, respectively—have put together an awkwardly intimate look at characters whom we will recognize all too well: Josh (Duplass), the immature and bullying indie-rock boyfriend; Emily (Kathryn Aselton), the clingy and self-esteem-impaired girlfriend; Rhett, the quasi-mystic and irresponsible tagalong. Though of seemingly different temperaments, these three are untied in their passive-aggression and adolescent selfishness.

The handheld camera work and the highly naturalistic acting give the film the feel of a documentary, which is both a strength and a weakness: The viewer feels as if they are cooped up in the same rental van, in the same cheap motels, as this annoying trio, listening to their petty squabbles and their conciliatory baby-talk. By movie’s end, you wish to be fully rid of each of them, quickly.

To the filmmakers’ credit, they, too, seem to feel this and provide a far more likely conclusion than you’ll ever get out of the likes of Nora Ephron. The movie convincingly duplicates the feeling of a break-up: It’s an eagerly anticipated, wholly unsatisfying relief.

—John Rodat

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