Kerrie reviews Bumblefuck, a new DVD from Pecca Pics.
Bumblefuck, USA follows a young Dutch documentary maker Alexa (Cat Smits), as she arrives in a small Iowa town for the summer to film a documentary. She is inspired by the suicide of her gay friend Matt, who had lived in the area, and seeks to uncover his motivations for suicide, as well as gain insight into gay life in small town America. While there, she meets Jennifer (Heidi M Sallows,) an artist, and they begin to get close, while Alexa is clearly still hurt from her exploration of Matt’s suicide. Alexa’s own sexuality is left ambiguous, as are much of her feelings toward the town, and Jennifer. As well as the main plot, interviews by real people- who discuss their personal experience as people who identify as LGBT, while living in small town America -are interspersed throughout the narrative of the film, with interesting results.
Increasing pride events throughout the world
Directed by Aaron Douglas Johnson, who also co wrote the screenplay with star Cat Smits, Bumblefuck, USA is inspired by real events (the unseen character Matt is based on Johnson’s cousin) and incorporates real people. Amidst increasing pride events throughout the world, as well as LGBT and suicide awareness campaigns, we can see a growing LGBT community, and the way that this growth and awareness impacts on mainstream small town life. Such themes are prevalent in this film. The film has a decidedly natural feel- not least from the documentary interviews which appear throughout. The narrative elements are shot on handheld camera, in real locations. The acting has the feel of something which is largely improvised, particularly in the scenes between Alexa and Jennifer. Because so much of the film relies on their relationship, the sense of realism that results in their improvised scenes is pivotal. The camera follows them as they move naturally, physically inhabiting the space freely, as though not reliant on markers and lighting.
While Alexa’s sexuality remains ambiguous, some conclusions could be drawn from her experience within the narrative anyway; there is a definite contrast between her sexual experience with Jennifer, and another – decidedly less engaged- one night stand with a male grave yard worker (played by Ryan Gourley). Alexa is reluctant to give anything away about her feelings or plans, instead opting to observe and question others, and be frank and direct when she does express desire or want. This leads to a clash between her and her house mate Lucas, in a sub plot which sees her rent a room in his house for the summer. Though Lucas is decidedly odd, Alexa herself is initially hostile towards him. The disturbing familiarity with which Lucas addressed Alexa seems unnoticed by her. In return, and by contrast, she is abrupt and direct toward him, which contrasts his own urgent need to get close to her. At times, this detachment by Alexa can be jarring; it can be difficult to empathise with a character who refuses to emote. She reveals nothing about herself, even to Jennifer. Her mannerisms reveal little about her feelings; it is only through her actions that we learn some insight into Alexa’s state of mind. She is constantly ambiguous, instead allowing others to talk and act, while maintaining a pristine poker face.
Watching Heidi M. Sallows as Jennifer feels like watching a real person, rather than a character or actor. Her words feel honest, rather than scripted, and her movements are natural, rather than the self conscious ones of an actor. For me, she was a highlight of the film, where her natural demeanour blended seamlessly with the documentary elements of the film.
Stories of relationship and love
The talking head interviews were, in many ways, the most compelling aspect of the film. These interviews featured personal anecdotes and experiences by gay men and women, which were upsetting, funny, romantic and uplifting. The focus ranges from coming out and the difficulty inherent in this, to anecdotes which don’t even reference sexuality outright; instead were just stories of relationship and love. With only a small number of these scattered throughout, they were wholly compelling, and begged the question of what Alexa’s proposed documentary would actually have looked like.
Jennifer and Alexa’s is ultimately a story of friendship
A refreshing aspect of the film is its celebration of loving oneself, rather than a need to find love solely in others. Despite the romance and sex, Jennifer and Alexa’s is ultimately a story of friendship. We see that casual sex, or sexual relationships, are as worthy as other kinds, anda long term relationship or love doesn’t always have to be the end goal. There is not a solid conclusion to Alexa’s documentary. She doesn’t ever figure out the motivation behind Matt’s suicide, and as Jennifer tells her, “maybe Matt didn’t kill himself because he was gay, maybe he killed himself because he was depressed.” Alexa gets as many new questions as she does answers. But this represents a sort of awakening for her character; at the film’s opening, she is stony faced, but by its conclusion, this is replaced with optimism and hope.
Although this film does have its pitfalls- the enigmatic Alexa can be difficult to root for, leaving us unsure who the hero of the story is- it is an interesting portrait of personal exploration. Bumblefuck USA is refreshing, raw and real, with some beautiful and true insights into LGBT stories.
Bumblefuck is available through Peccadillo Pictures.