Post-Mumblecore?

Do we live in a post-Mumblecore world?

I think by now it’s safe to say yes.
Mumblecores existence relied on its ultimately unsustainable style and values. It’s use of amateur actors, little or no script, and low production values did not allow for any serious development for the directors. And so they all had to eventually leave behind these roots, taking with them merely just the themes (everyday lives of the twenties and thirties) and some of the style (naturalistic dialogue) they honed during their Mumblecore phase.
Just take a look on the world-renowned streaming site Netflix and you’ll see Mumblecore pioneer Joe Swanberg’s newest project – an anthology series featuring the Hollywood power of Orlando Bloom, Dave Franco and Hannibal Buress. Underground movements end the very moment they become mainstream, it has been that way since the days of punk and the Sex Pistols in the mid-1970s.
So when did this little indie genre take that gigantic step?

Perhaps this requires something of a history lesson.

Funny Haha in 2002 was the prologue, with the movement truly bursting into life at the SXSW festival in 2005, with the works of the aforementioned Swanberg, Andrew Bujalski and Duplass Brothers all being shown. They were subsequently grouped together under the umbrella term – Mumblecore. And in the following years their work indeed continued in a similar vein.

Swanberg went on to make perhaps the most famous of all Mumblecore movies, Hannah Takes the Stairs, collaborating with Bujalski and Duplass as well as Greta Gerwig. Then he went on something of a splurge, directing at least a movie a year until 2011 when he made no less than six movies. In that same period the Duplass Brothers (perhaps disappointedly considering their Puffy Chair is the most charming of the original ‘trio’) only directed Baghead, which was one of a new type of mumblecore horror film. This sub genre of the sub genre erupted from nowhere – and the low-budget horror movie scene became clumsily named (or geniusly depending on which way you look at it) Mumblegore. Bujalski meanwhile only made the slow paced Beeswax in 2009 before taking a short break. Other directors stepped up to the plate though to fill the void left by Bujalski and Duplass, not least Lynn Shelton with Humpday (2009) and Aaron Katz whose Quiet City (2007) and Dance Party, USA (2006) are two of the most well-renowned mumblecore movies.

It seems around the 2010 mark though that things began to change.
The Duplass brothers worked with John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill in Cyrus (2010) and followed that up with a collaboration with Ed Helms and Jason Segel in Jeff Who Lives At Home (2011). These films were much crisper than their previous outings and obviously featured high-profile actors. Shelton too made the jump, hiring Emily Blunt for Your Sister’s Sister (2011).
Greta Gerwig, regarded by many as the quintessential mumblecore star, graduated to working with the likes of Ben Stiller in Greenberg (2010), as well as Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher in No Strings Attached (2011). Whilst Greenberg holds onto many of the tropes of the Mumblecore genre (awkward man child meets equally awkward woman), the Natalie Portman rom-com was a huge step in a different direction for Gerwig, straight into Hollywood cliche territory. She has since made the wonderfully charming Frances Ha (2012) which she co-write along with independent director Noah Baumbach, and it harkens back to the focus of the Mumblecore movies she used to make – girl in the city moving from apartment to apartment trying to get her life together as she struggles over questions of friendship, money, love and ultimately direction. Crucially though it is a cleaner production than the gritty Mumblecore movies, and it includes some Hollywood stars, most notably Girls (and now Star Wars) actor Adam Driver.
The most prolific of the bunch, Swanberg appears to have made the transition slightly later, as he began to work with Anna Kendrick in Drinking Buddies (2013) and then Happy Christmas (2014) before using Orlando Bloom in Digging for Fire (2015), and most recently Easy (2016), for Netflix. And finally there is Bujalski who only permanently made the move into mainstream with 2015’s Results where he worked with Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders.

Admittedly looking at the movies mentioned, none of them are huge Hollywood blockbusters, they are just a handful of well known actors working on smaller budget movies. This however is still cause to proclaim Mumblecore dead. The premise of it could never withstand true technological advancement let alone the use of a script, lighting or professional actors, because it was exclusively a mode for telling stories of that particular moment. Movements live and they die when they are no longer needed or relevant. Mumblecore was required by those members of Generation Y to express their uncertainties about and perhaps inability coping in the new 21st century society. As their lives moved on and society around them did too, their means of communicating that message changed and the message itself shifted, even if only so slightly. They still make movies about similar topics but they aren’t so stripped back and they never can be again. Even when a new generation attempts to follow in the footsteps of the original mumblecore group, for example Lena Dunham with her freshman effort Tiny Furniture (2010), it is simply not the same. The meaning is familiar but it’s a different generation’s voice at the heart of it. And thus mumblecore will never be repeated, the same way the American avant garde, or Dogme 95 will never be repeated, but for now at least we can enjoy the later offerings of the directors in their post-mumblecore output.

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