Friday, January 24, 2014

24 EXPOSURES: SWANBERG'S SEXY FORAY INTO CRIME DRAMA

"I'm sure there are photos of flowers out there that would blow my mind, but you know, I just haven't seen 'em." -Billy

It feels like every "indie darling" in the last few years have had Joe Swanberg's name attached to it in some way, shape, or form.  The prolific demi-god of "mumblecore" movies, Swanberg's films are commonly adventures into the world of low-budget dramas showcasing relationships, technology, filmmaking, and love.  Films like DRINKING BUDDIES, HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS, ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY, and his Sundance hit HAPPY CHRISTMAS would paint Swanberg to be the filmmaker both critics and hipsters would recommend to their pals.

However, with things like his V/H/S segment (The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger), AUTOEROTIC (co-directed with Adam Wingard), and 24 EXPOSURES, it's proven that Swanberg is capable of creating a wide variety of films without ever losing the signature Swanberg touch.  If filmographies were ice cream, Swanberg would be Baskin Robin's 31 flavors.

Wingard personifying the stuff he reblogs on tumblr.
 Swanberg's filmmaking style generates a product very reminiscent of the "slice of life" theatre movements.  His films feel authentic, look natural, and sound completely unrehearsed.  Well, in the case of that last description, it's true.  24 EXPOSURES focuses on Billy (Adam Wingard), a fetish photographer specializing as corpse/crime scene style photography.  Think the death photo project from the Fitzgerald sisters in GINGER SNAPS and you've got an idea of what Billy tries to make sexy.  He lives with his collaborator girlfriend Alex (Caroline White) who has a penchant for picking out models that look like that could be her sisters, and if the model is willing, instigating threeomes.  It seems as if his life of shoot, fuck, repeat is working out well, until a depressed homicide detective named Michael Bamfeaux (Simon Barrett) shows up to ask about the murder of one of his models.

Another addition to the "Making it really hard to find pictures of these two individually," file.

The film plays with the idea of voyeurism, and it's clearly reflected in the filming style.  We see the photos of Billy and Michael's real crime photos and it's really difficult to distinguish which is which.  It forces us to ask a lot of questions regarding artist's integrity, artist's motivation, and the intent of artists working in non-traditional formats. Watching this film feels like intruding into the world of an artist and spying on the downward spiral of a depressed man trained on how to use a gun.  Of all of Swanberg's films, this was one of the more interesting to watch.  It's unsettling and feels like what the Investigation Discovery crime dramatizations want to be when they grow up.  If you came looking for flannel and kitschy situations, you came to the wrong movie.

At least this white van has windows, amirite?



Despite being about a murder, the film focuses on the Swanberg standard of personal relationships.  The way that the lives of these people intertwine and interact are complex, interesting, and perhaps all too familiar...which is exactly how it's supposed to be.  Perhaps the naysayers of Swanberg's films are uncomfortable because his characters are a little too identifiable.  Considering it's another leap into the realm of "directors as actors" style of Swanberg films, the acting isn't great.  When Wingard and Barrett are on screen together, the chemistry spikes up and their performances really shine, but that should be expected coming from the two filmmaking partners.  The story feels very true to life, which may lead this film to very polarizing opinions.  It doesn't feel like a movie, it feels like real life. Sorry, but there's really no escapism in this one. There isn't a cinematic gut-punch, but the film didn't feel unsatisfying.  I may be in the minority when giving this film a thumbs up, but I found 24 EXPOSURES to be a crime drama pretty unique to itself.  Swanberg himself admits in his cameo that this sort of story is "the sort of thing that happens in real life and doesn't make for compelling, commerical books."  It may not be your cup of tea, but I enjoyed my serving.

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