The Puffy Chair Movie Review
There is nothing wrong with desire, especially when it's not miscategorized as one for reality. Nonetheless, it's tempting to submit alleged realism-seekers to The Puffy Chair, written and directed by the Duplass brothers, as a sort of litmus test. In it, a twentysomething relationship is essayed with such absolute believability that viewers may squirm with longing for Reese Witherspoon falling in love with a 200-year-old ghost.
At first, it sounds like a cute indie-comedy journey: Josh (screenwriter Mark Duplass) and his girlfriend Emily (Kathryn Aselton) take their wobbly long-term relationship on the road to deliver the titular chair to Josh's father as a birthday present. Along the way, they pick up Josh's dippy brother Rhett (Rhett Wilkins), the first of many complications to Josh's plan, and the couple's affection for each other.
The basics of Josh and Emily's relationship could be taken from any dopey romantic comedy, or even a sitcom: She wants more attention and seems at wit's end, he broadcasts his fear of commitment through a thousand tiny gestures, like answering his cell phone during dinner, or waiting until the last minute to invite her on his cross-country trip. The Duplass brothers' ace is their ability to spin these common problems into a mix of hostility, seething, and the good moments that hold things together; they're unsparing in a portrayal of two kinda nice people who really suck at reassuring and nurturing each other.
Despite the relationship dramatics -- and the added stress of Rhett, whose carefree existence provides its own manner of fussy irritation -- The Puffy Chair isn't actively unpleasant; it's not shrill or smug with bleakness. It just sort of is. Josh, Emily, and Rhett feel and, especially, talk like real people; there are laughs, certainly, but not from wisecracking quips. The more outlandish situations (Josh's confrontation with an upholsterer, for example) aren't played as farce but awkward, trying, and then, finally, a little bit funny. Everything about the film is hard-won or, in some cases, hard-lost.
The deleted scenes on the DVD are more interesting than most, in great part because of the filmmakers' observations about why they were cut or replaced. The exception (by virtue of it being better than interesting) is one extended bit that, had it been left in the movie, would've been its funniest moment. Early in their trip, Josh and Emily bicker about whether or not to stop and use a restroom (the term they use, with amusingly obsessive frequency, is "weets"); everything stubborn, affectionate, good-humored, and sad about their relationship is put on display in one hilarious sequence. That it was cut for time is understandable; a single scene this long added to a movie this short would've boosted the running time a good ten percent. I retroactively mourn for its absence, but I am heartened by its existence; rare is the film where a cut scene will make you like it even more.