Josh and Emily have been dating for three years, but you’d be hard-pressed to figure out why. They enjoy baby-talking to one another, except when Emily gets serious and wants to discuss marriage, at which point Josh’s habit of calling her (and everyone) “dude” becomes annoying. She’s rather demanding and far too high-maintenance for a tool who is, in his own words, “a romantic retard.”
Naturally, what this couple needs is a road trip with Josh’s hippie brother to pick up a chair purchased on eBay. And so we have “The Puffy Chair,” a funny, un-strenuous movie that glides through life as amiably and with as much endearing awkwardness as Josh himself does.
It was written by brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, directed by Jay and starring Mark. He plays Josh, a failed New York City indie rocker in his late 20s who now calls himself a “booking agent,” though the acts he has booked are suspiciously few. Upon seeing on eBay a recliner identical to the one from his childhood that was the domain of his father, Josh has the brilliant idea of buying it, driving to North Carolina to pick it up, and continuing home to Atlanta to surprise his father for his birthday. This is a grand gesture that he cannot possibly screw up, he reasons. And a trip will be good for his strained relationship with Emily.
They stop briefly at the home of Josh’s brother Rhett (Rhett Wilkins), a New Age-y hippie type who likes to film snails and commune with nature. Somehow it becomes a good idea for him to accompany the two on the rest of their journey, though surely the potential for disaster in such a move is apparent.
The Duplasses’ shooting style is verite, and the dialogue, though in fact scripted, sounds goofily improvised. It has the effect of making us feel like we are watching true, honest moments, the comedy of real life coming through in the mishaps that befall the trio.
There is a bit of a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” vibe to it, too, not just in the documentary-style shooting, but in the situations. The elaborate lengths to which the brothers go to pay the one-person price for a motel room that all three of them will be sleeping in is hilarious, as are the confrontations and social awkwardness that are commonplace in their interactions with each other and with strangers. It makes you squirm sometimes, seeing someone as clueless as Josh acting with such casual self-destructiveness.
They get the chair and eventually make it to Atlanta, but the real “journey” here is the one embarked upon by Josh and Emily (Kathryn Aselton) as they attempt to sort out their relationship. Does a normal girl belong with a frat boy who’s in a state of arrested development? All the right destinations are reached by the film’s end, including the most important one, which is to entertain us with funny, likable characters.
B+ (1 hr., 25 min.; )