Having been a great fan of mumblecore films for some time, I’ve often wondered, “How can this genre even work?” There’s a lot of hatred out there, calling out how self-absorbed these (now not so young) directors are with their paltry “white people problems.” But at its best, mumblecore has given the world some genuine characters who, in their flaws and mannerisms, manage to strike a chord with audiences. It’s precisely this subjective identification process that has become a staple and a sine qua non condition for an effective — and affective — subjective experience.
Richard’s Wedding turns that rule upside down, subverting many of the expectations about the genre. Is it possible to enjoy a film in which you hate every single character? That’s the challenge in writer/director/editor Onur Tukel’s latest feature, in which an ensemble of friends prepares for Richard and Phoebe’s big day (why the title of film fails to mention the bride is still a mystery to me). These aren’t your typical characters who find their ways into our unsuspecting sympathetic hearts through their charming eccentricities and good-humored flaws. These are annoying, unpleasant, and downright hateful people.
In the film’s first scene, we meet Tuna (played by Onur Tukel himself), a man who, at 39 years of age, is now too old for his slacker way of life to be glamorous or seductive. What could have at one point seemed like an alluringly carefree anti-establishment lifestyle now comes off as bitter, lazy, insufferable, and politically naive. Tuna and his female friend Alex (Jennifer Prediger) take up the first act of the film as they walk (and ride the subway, this being New York City) towards their friend Russell’s (Darrill Rosen) apartment, where more of their friends are expected to meet up. It’s a long walk for us to endure, as Tuna rambles on about whatever comes to mind, not caring if he may sound racist or insensitive towards Alex’s issues with her alcoholic father or her meth-addict-turned-Christian cousin. We can only hope relief will come once they finally arrive at their destination, where a new cast of characters may outshine Tuna’s gracelessness, yet each new member of the party slowly reveal themselves to be more spiteful than the last. In one of the film’s most striking moments, Russell elaborates on his lack of faith in humanity due to an incident he witnessed in some faraway eastern country he can’t even remember the name of (he thinks it could be Burma). “Fuck humanity,” he says, a statement that could just as well have been “fuck everyone else who isn’t me” as he rambles on about his admiration for Ayn Rand.
Comic relief comes in the character of Taco (Dustin Guy Defa), a lovable weirdo who kamikazes his way into a celebration where no one actually knows him, and Louis (Randy Gambill), the former meth addict and current minister who is called in last minute to replace the original minister of the ceremony. During his speech, Louis asks every single participant what friendship means to them. He could just as well have asked why these people are even still friends, since all they seem capable of is jealousy, contempt, and badmouthing each other behind their backs (or in plain view).
Richard’s Wedding is quite an oddball film. The only possible identification with these characters is negatively; most of us are too vain to admit to the deplorable features they shamelessly express. During our social coexistence, we soon learn the importance of cautiously masquerading ourselves, whereas the characters in Tukel’s film display such a lack of social tact that makes it impossible for them to be anything other than themselves. Maybe we all share at least some similarities to this detestable group of obnoxious dolts. If nothing else, we may feel strangely attracted to them due to a dreadfully selfish reason, one that is verbalized by Tuna himself during one of his obsessive rants about his fondness for stories about people who have lost everything: their failures in life makes us feel better about ourselves.