Indie Nadir Challenges Cinema and Jerry Springer

The Indie film movement may have some high points (your call) but it also commits innumerable disasters such as Your Sister’s Sister and Peace, Love and Misunderstanding. Each plot is undistinguished but Your Sister’s Sister’s plot is so poor it exposes how the Indie movement’s grave lack of imagination unfortunately replaces Hollywood’s formerly sure-fire storytelling. The creative decline is matched by YS(2)’s unforgivable–and inescapable–technical incompetence.

Writer-director Lynn Shelton (of the insufferable Humpday and married in-law member of the Duplass Brothers cabal) concocts a mumblecorish story about depressed guy Jack (Mark Duplass) who sexes Hannah (Rosemarie Dewitt), the lesbian sister of his friend Iris (Emily Blunt)–whom Jack secretly loves. This is a Jerry Springer Show topic more than it is a plot, as was two-straight-guys-experimenting-with-gay-sex in Humpday. The Duplass gang humps again. All Shelton’s films should be titled “Humpday,” a new Indie-Idiot franchise.

Only Indie-snob arrogance can explain this premise being filmed or taken seriously. After much dull anguish among the yuppie triangle, Jack whines “I only slept with her because I couldn’t sleep with you!” Obviously years of romantic melodrama, sex farce and screwball comedy have passed over Lynn Shelton’s head. She represents a generation of proud, self-deluded Indie filmmakers who think they’re transcending Hollywood by avoiding its formulas.

But the Indie-mumblecore movement’s homegrown, navel-gazing narcissism is merely a new formula–only without entertaining slickness. We get plain faces babbling, drinking, walking, biking, presumably improvising–yet never arriving at originality. The mundane is overrated. (DeWitt’s intense, intelligent presence only recalls how better she was as resentful sister 2 in Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married–the masterpiece that Indies refuse to learn from.)

As videographed by Benjamin Kasulke, YS(2)’s is the most visually unappealing movie since the days when indie pioneer Gary Winick lost his light meter. Scene after scene is murkily underlit and uninterestingly composed–no surprise, Shelton has also “directed” an episode of the visually dismal Mad Men TV series. Digital-photography has improved amazingly (as in Josh Trank’s remarkable Chronicle), yet YS(2) is literally unwatchable.

The same can be said for Peace, Love and Misunderstanding–it’s unwatchable for other reasons. I won’t officially review this movie I walked out on but I can warn against it based on its lousy first two-thirds (and Jane Fonda’s awful over-the-top Kate Hepburn impersonation). What’s pertinent is an early scene where Manhattan yuppies discuss theater, agreeing to dismiss the plays of Eugene O’Neill. Like YS(2), it’s like a crazy outtake from Hannah and Her Sisters–full of Woody Allen pretense and perversity. Both these films prove the Indie movement disregards the heritage of dramatic narrative structure (and technical competence) in preference to its own self-importance and ignorance. When the tradition of dramatizing human relations is neglected, all that’s left is culture’s nadir. Shelton’s cliffhanger ending shows a complete dereliction of her artistic obligation. Only a Jerry Springer episode could give her premise a proper resolution.

Follow Armond White on Twitter at 3xchair