This is a banner weekend for Mark Duplass in North Texas. This weekend sees Safety Not Guaranteed (in which he stars) opening in Grapevine, Hurst, and Arlington. Duplass also has a lead role in Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister, which opens in Dallas this weekend. Then there’s Lola Versus in Grapevine, which stars Greta Gerwig, whom Mark Duplass and his brother Jay directed in one of their early efforts, Baghead. And the Duplass brothers’ film Jeff, Who Lives at Home is out on DVD this week. Still not enough Duplass for you? Mark also had a small role in Darling Companion, which came out earlier this spring, and also in People Like Us, which comes out next week. The dude gets around, and I haven’t even covered all his projects. (Check out the profile of him in this week’s Entertainment Weekly, which I can’t find online for some reason, for an exhaustive account of everything he’s up to.) Two years ago, Mark Duplass starred in Shelton’s comedy Humpday, and it seems like that whole axis of the Duplasses and Shelton is responsible for some of the best American independent filmmaking today.
I haven’t yet seen Your Sister’s Sister, but it’s set to play the Modern on July 29, and it’s getting terrific reviews. I’m anxious to see it; I found Humpday to be one of the better comedies of its year. I have seen Lola Versus, and you should probably avoid it unless you’re such a huge fan of Greta Gerwig that you bought tickets to No Strings Attached and the Arthur remake.
Save your money for Safety Not Guaranteed, which is the first successful hybrid of science fiction and romantic comedy that I can recall since Happy Accidents, which came out in 2001. Io9.com puts out this list of other movies fitting that description, but I’m not sure Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fit as snugly into both genres as Safety Not Guaranteed does. Interesting: Colin Trevorrow’s film played at the Sundance Film Festival with a different ending. The one we have now doesn’t damage things too much. There are bits of stunt casting: Jeff Garlin as Darius’ dad, Mary Lynn Rajskub as Seattle’s editor. (That’s a real publication, by the way.) The cameos don’t add that much, but Kristen Bell as a woman from Kenneth’s past is good for a laugh just for the sharp contrast between her and Plaza, the sunny blonde meeting the stormy brunette.
I saw Jeff, Who Lives at Home last March in the theaters and thought it was magical. I saw it again on disc and found it somewhat more contrived. Jason Segel plays the titular Jeff, a 30-year-old pothead who lives in his mother’s basement and gets into a series of adventures when his mom (Susan Sarandon) sends him out to get some wood glue. The plot is strewn with unlikely coincidences, and the Duplasses hang lampshades on them. Jeff is obsessed with M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs and is convinced that the universe is sending him signals about his destiny. Jeff’s brother Pat (Ed Helms) tries to convince him to move out of the house and get a job, but Pat succumbs to his own magical thinking when he buys a Porsche that he can’t afford and tries to convince his wife (Judy Greer) that the car will fix what’s wrong with their marriage.
One thing’s for sure: You can’t fault the actors. Segel is terrific as a guy who’s unexpectedly sharp amid his woolly philosophizing and has an exasperating habit of getting distracted and following anyone named Kevin, because he thinks the name is bound up with his fate. There’s a great scene in a hotel room between Helms and Greer when Pat and his wife confront the fact that their marriage has fallen apart. Some people didn’t care for the subplot with the boys’ mom getting messages from a secret admirer at work, but Sarandon’s acting carries it off. The bigger problem is the climax with everyone gathered and Jeff getting his big moment of redemption, but it works to a degree that it probably shouldn’t.
Anyway, you can surround yourself with some combination of these movies this weekend and assure yourself that filmmaking at the grassroots level is alive and well.