Friday, August 5, 2011

Dance Party, USA (2006)

Dance Party, USA is an Aaron Katz creation from the mumblecore movement of American independent film making. I can't believe as a wannabe film maker it's taken me until 2011 to hear about this movement, especially when I was at film school at just the right time to be jumping up and down screaming at my classmates to get in on this. But then when I pitched an idea for a series of love story vignettes in London, each one made by different directors they ignored it and made zombie shorts instead. So let's face it, nothing would have happened if I did!

From what I've read of mumblecore so far I can give you a brief overview of the movement for those not in the know. These are largely naturalistic films shot on micro budgets with next to no production values and most featuring a bunch of twenty somethings mumbling through half finished sentences as they work out what they want from life and relationships. Doesn't sound like it's for everybody does it? It's OK Custard, I know.

So to synopsisise this movie for you: Gus is a guy who lies about his sexual adventures, much like every guy ever, Jessica seems like a lost soul who is trying to connect with someone but having no luck. The pair meet at some terrible house party and a sparkle of light comes alive in both of them.

That's all I can share, it's a movie that is just over 60 minutes long, as with Small Town Murder Songs, that's hardly a real feature film in my eyes but in the short time you get to know these characters you feel like a lot happens, to go in to more depth about plot and storyline would be giving too much away I feel.

My first impressions were that it was a more accurate depiction of the behaviour of people in their early 20's than I remember seeing on film before. It had the feel of Larry Clark's Kids but without the delinquent storyline. As you may have realised from previous reviews I am a sucker for a bit of realism in film, the kitchen sink aesthetic being something I enjoy more than a lot of other viewers and whilst this doesn't reach the level of a Ben Wheatley movie for example it is sufficiently raw and true to suck me in from the very beginning.

Yes the quality of image is poor but you shoot a film with a standard digital camera it's not gonna look like Star Wars and it simply adds to the intended effect. Katz doesn't look at his equipment, think he's making a documentary and shake his camera about like we've all come to expect from every movie ever made, he does a strong job with what he has to hand and there are some beautifully framed shots throughout.

Sound as you would expect from a movie dubbed mumblecore isn't the crisp clear dialogue you get from a regular movie, characters talk over the top of each other, planes fly overhead, diegetic sounds interfere occasionally but not to the point where enjoyment is hindered or you need to use subtitles.

There's a lot of humour in the film, subtle but still there, watching Gus talk to his male friend Bill can feel like you're watching a live action Beavis and Butthead but I couldn't stop laughing all the same. So many terrible anecdotes are shared between characters, sentences are started and not finished, you've known people like this and been to parties where there's nothing but boring stories, at times it's like listening to your father-in -law talk about the internet but happily you can laugh in these people's faces. It's quite cathartic in that sense. And this is quite a different party to the one's we're used to seeing in American Pie and films of that sort. It's definitely closer to what I've experienced.

The character development is also small but then the story takes place over just a few days and I'm sure we've all complained at implausible character development in Hollywood film so this makes sense but what it does do is provide some wonderful moments with Gus trying to talk over his internal changes with Bill and a truly sweet ending to the film.

Overall despite knowing not all of you will enjoy I can't recommend this film enough. It's not perfect but it is enjoyable. I'm very much looking forward to Katz's followup Quiet City now.

Mumble something under your breath in the blahs below, go on, you know you want to.


  1. As a side note, if you've lost any mid-range hearing, mumblecore is not for you. I've seen some film shorts done this way and I'm so busy hearing the sounds that are easier for my ears that the dialogue is totally drowned out.

  2. oh man, that would be a terrible way to find out about hearing problems. a review consisting of "i couldn't hear a word they said but the tv shows in the background were dull"

  3. you put a good case forward Toby. But I don't think this one is for me. 

    Thanks for writing it up though matey!! You are such a clever sausage!

  4. I was introduced to the genre a few years ago, and started out watching the first couple films by Joe Swanberg. Although I found them interesting at first, I quickly grew tired and annoyed of the style.

    But I did enjoy Cold Weather, Katz's latest film. So maybe eventually I will give this one a shot.

  5. custard - clever sausage? this made me laugh when the comment came through at work.

    bt - in the little bit of reading i've done i've heard it is Katz that stands out as the most watchable. cold weather is on my watch list since your review but i went with this first as it was shorter. i'll let you know how it compares once i've seen it.

  6. HAHA Would you prefer Clever dick? LOL

  7. Thanks for the recommendation Toby, I have actually never even heard of this film!

  8. hey matt, despite the jump in to mainstream cinema these mumblecore guys are experiencing now their early works are still pretty obscure. if you enjoy this one it's opening a whole world of movies to you - i've got 5 other lined up now.