Kissing on the Mouth, Swanberg’s first feature, is perhaps worth a watch quite simply because it arrived at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas in 2005. That was the same year Andrew Bujalski showed Mutual Appreciation and The Duplass brothers screened The Fluffy Chair at the festival too. This trio of films kicked off what would become known as the mumblecore movement. Thus Kissing on the mouth can be regarded as seminal viewing for those interested in the birth of the independent movie sub genre.
However, in all other respects, this is a movie to skip. Swanberg has freely admitted in interviews that he never set out to create masterpieces and that everyone’s first few films tend to be poor. Kissing on the Mouth is certainly a poor movie. Even for a mumblecore advocate such as I, it is a tedious experience. Ellen is sleeping with her ex-boyfriend, and Swanberg plays her jealous roommate, Patrick. There’s little more plot to it than that and it struggles to even fill its lean 78 minute runtime. The film is also extremely graphic, showing not just penetrative sex but male ejaculation, which honestly adds nothing to the movie. Thankfully Swanberg has toned down the pornographic elements in his more recent films.
There are some glimpses of true creative brilliance but they are too few and far between. The interviews that overplay some scenes are extremely intriguing and are clearly meant to have an impact upon Ellen. However, this is never properly explored, and neither is the jealousy of Patrick. There are interesting threads but they are just not expanded upon enough to make the movie consistently watchable. Swanberg improved in later movies such as Nights and Weekends where the themes such as breakups were explored more thoroughly, allowing true character development.
Of all Swanberg’s movies, his first should be essential viewing, but apart from its historical relevance, it is one that is easy to skip.