Minimalist to a fault and almost painfully awkward to watch Baghead is the type of film that will most likely only be enjoyed by the kind of people it portrays: young, urban, good looking (read: White) girls and boys with artistic aspirations, but who really only devote their creative energy to figuring out who’s hooking up with who, when, and where. It’s not a bad film, but unless you fall into any of those above categories, you will probably be bored by it. And even if you do fall into one of those categories, you will probably be bored by it. I was.
The plot is maddeningly basic for the 84 minutes it takes to reach the end and seems to have been developed from an outline. This sketchy quality is apparently quite deliberate, as the film is part of a genre entitled “mumblecore”. It’s a twee name for a twee type of filmmaking, which, wouldn’t you know, is made primarily by young, urban, white boys – the Duplass Brothers are the auteurs behind Baghead - who shoot low budget flicks about their own lives with all the depth of a bird fountain – ah youth. In any case, there’s enough handheld camera here to make Godard puke in his popcorn.
The twee Baghead stars four youngish never-weres, in various states of attraction to each other. The beginning of the film is promising. The four leads sit in a movie theater, watching slack jawed as a ridiculous student film passes for art at an underground film festival. Vowing that they could do better, the group decides to hole themselves up in a mountain cabin and write a screenplay. It will, of course, have juicy parts in it for all of them and it will, of course, not come to fruition as the sets are more interested in sussing out each other’s relationships than working together towards a united goal. Here Baghead seems to be making a statement about the rampant douche baggery passing as art that plagues Los Angeles, which is good. This needs to be addressed by people other than F. Scott Fitzgerald 60 years ago. However, by the end of the film the characters are revealed to be those same douches that are content to be cogs in the wheel of Los Angeles as long as they maintain the illusion of being card-carrying members of the creative underclass, which is bad and dishonest to boot.
Events dictate that their screenplay will be in the horror genre, a wise choice because it’s cheap to make a horror film. It will be about a man with a bag on his head terrorizing some unaware cabin cuties. It might be a clever spoof of Blair Witch, until one remembers that any spoof of that 10-year-old film is dated and unoriginal by nature. Soon enough elements of the screenplay, namely the guy with a bag on his head in the woods, begin to bleed into reality. This would be cool, if it made any sense at all, but it doesn’t. It just confuses the audience. Baghead wants to exist on the realist plane, with emphasis on relationships and characters, but it also wants be a formalist flick about the supernatural. Rarely does this ever work and that it doesn’t here isn’t a surprise.
The leads aren’t necessarily unsympathetic, but they’re pretty self-absorbed with personalities as thin as their ambitions. Even their names are bland: Matt (Ross Partridge), Chad (Steve Zissis), Catherine (Elise Muller), Michelle (Greta Gerwig). The performances aren’t bad, but not much is demanded of them in the non-existent screenplay. Catherine pouts, Chad moons, Matt struggles, Michelle bubbles. They fuck each other and fuck with each other, creating situations singularly humiliating for all involved. One can identify with Catherine, the aging blonde who shellacs her beauty into submission with 3 inches of make up. She has an on-and-off again relationship with Matt, something Michelle disregards totally in her pursuit of the older man. This pitting of the bubbly Michelle against the sad Catherine is a rather cruel emphasis on the blatantly misogynistic nature of female relationships. So much for the sisterhood, the brothers Duplass say, as if they would even know what that meant. The sad truth of the shiny young upstart pulling the rug out from under the older woman made me squirm with its resonance, but it’s nothing new: It’s All About Eve without the smarts.
By the time Baghead ended, I found myself thinking that the events in it would probably work best compressed into a 30 second anecdote told to friends about situations far enough in the past to be funny rather than just humiliating. It would be the kind of story that’s only really interesting or humorous to the people who were there; it just bores everyone else. So, if Baghead were a story told to a hapless pal on a drunken Friday evening, it would go something like this: “Dude, remember when we were in the woods trying write that screenplay and the dude with the bag in the mask woke Michelle up and then we all got scared and began freaking out and dude, listen, it gets better. So then we tried to get the car working and….Hey dude? Are you listening, dude?”