The Puffy Chair is a sometimes interesting, sometimes entertaining dramedy. The protagonist (Mark Duplass) buys a recliner on eBay to give to his father for his birthday. He needs to drive out of state to pick it up, and intends to then continue on to his parents’ house.
His girlfriend (Katie Aselton), with whom he is having some issues, talks her way into coming along on this road trip. Early on, they stop to visit his brother (Rhett Wilkins)–a kind of dreamy, impractical, simple, goodhearted fellow–who also talks his way into tagging along. So the bulk of the film is a road movie of these three main characters trying to get where they’re going, bickering, talking things out, working on their relationships.
Once I saw what this movie was developing into, I had somewhat low expectations. I figured it just looked like so many indie films that it would be tired and cliched. Plus it’s fairly amateurishly shot, with the picture going out of focus on zooms and such. (Even on a low budget, I would think you can do another shot on a screw up like that. Which makes me think it’s not a screw up but intentional to give the film a certain look.)
But honestly it held my interest pretty well. The people and the situations felt real to me. I think the film does a good job capturing the style and maturity level of a lot of 20-somethings. It doesn’t present them as anything extreme for dramatic or comedic effect (the brother is a little more offbeat for comic relief, but not in a ludicrous way), nor does it idealize them and give them a lot of profound lines and unlikely insights.
The relationship between the central couple is shaky and imperfect. There is enough warmth between them that you can sense why they can be good together, but probably even more so you can sense why each can find the other irritating.
The woman is a little more annoying I would say, with her insecurity and constant need to find something to bitch about and judge her partner on so they can have a little spat. But that’s a matter of taste. Women viewers might be more impatient with the guy and his sometimes haughty attitude toward his girlfriend’s emotionalism. He’s no saint certainly, with his dishonest streak, his flare-ups of dominant, controlling behavior, his commitment issues, and his penchant for gabbing on his cell phone when he’s with someone in person (a real pet peeve of mine).
He complains late in the movie about the pressure of having to be the “leader” of the trip, and it’s true he’s the one of the three that’s invariably getting things done, but that’s largely because he consistently pushes himself into that position and assumes the other two are ineffectual. So it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There’s enough psychological insight about human relationships in this movie to nudge it at least modestly into the thumbs up category.
Plus I’m going to give it slight bonus points for the ending. It’s a mild surprise. It’s simple and understated. It’s definitive enough that you don’t feel like the movie just ends abruptly without telling you what happened. Yet what happens is the kind of thing that’s far from necessarily final. So in that sense it leaves an opening for plenty of speculation.
Really not a bad little movie.