A good pick to follow up Beale Street and Leave No Trace – another movie full of loveliness. Of the three, this will be the endlessly rewatchable one – extremely sharp dialogue, editing and performances – especially from Regina Hall as a restaurant manager having a complicated day. I love this movie so much, but don’t want to write about it now, will instead link to Mike D’Angelo in AV Club.

Having a hard time figuring how the same filmmaker made the unwatchably mumblecore Mutual Appreciation, the playfully bizarre Computer Chess, and this much slicker, almost mainstream comedy.

“A man on three scotches could program his way out of any problem in the world.”

I was sure I wouldn’t like this b/w 4:3 analogue-video about a 1980’s supernerd computer-chess competition set entirely in a drab hotel, but that’s because I didn’t realize the directions the movie would take. Very glad I gave Bujalski another shot, after disliking his Mutual Appreciation.

P. Coldiron for Cinema Scope:

Bujalski has always shown a tremendous talent for letting big ideas work themselves out in mundane scenarios; this film takes both of those to their furthest limits… Computer Chess’ main force of narrative thrust comes not from any event, but from the its subtly dynamic formal movement from something like mockumentary toward out-and-out abstraction.

There is a camera within the movie, a news documentary being made on the event (whose cameraman gets yelled at for shooting into the sun), but most of the footage isn’t from its perspective. Honestly by now I get the characters and actors all confused, so I can’t recall who participates in which threads, or who Wiley Wiggins played, but I remember Myles Paige as a confident independent with a new approach to programming, who gets trounced in the matches and ends up on the run for stealing drugs from two apocalyptic-minded interlopers. Patrick Riester from the Caltech team goes wandering, gets picked up (and ultimately terrified) by new age swingers at a sad post-hippie conference. One team works for a secretive well-funded organization, and M.I.T. is “the team that’s got a lady on it.”

“I do not think that Tesla is a good role model for your academic career. That is the path to madness.”

The movie becomes very playful, and the outcome of the chess match starts to matter (to us) less and less. It plays with its cameras, and with sound sync and color. Coldiron: “One character, short on cash, returns home in search of money and upon his arrival the film suddenly shifts to colour 16mm, eventually locking into a loop that traps him in a formal purgatory where he remains for the rest of the movie.”

“Everything is not everything.”

Bujalski: “I think it’s odd from the beginning; that oddness just flowers and flourishes more as it goes… I have no doubt that it will frustrate a lot of viewers, but I think it will frustrate them in a new and different way.

Oops, I thought this Bujalski dude was our indie cinema saviour or the new Wes Anderson or something. Nothing more than a grainy portrait of a few young white people in new york, one of ’em trying to be an indie rocker, and mutually attracted to his best bud’s girl [best bud is played by the director]. Manages not to be annoyingly quirky, situations seem pretty real and characters have a non-fakey awkwardness about them, but also not much to recommend the movie and doesn’t feel very memorable.

AV Club said it first: “All this intrigue sets up a romantic encounter between Rice and Clift, and a serious rupture in their relationship with Bujalski, but nothing in Mutual Appreciation goes according to the usual script. The scene in which Rice and Clift finally vocalize their feelings for each other is the perfect example of what Bujalski does so well: Any other romantic melodrama would have them bubbling over with passion, but these characters are painfully tentative and believably so, given that they’re both betraying someone they care about. What ends up happening between them is completely unexpected, yet entirely true to who they are and to how most caring people would act. But such things rarely happen onscreen, and Bujalski’s willingness to follow through makes him a singular talent.”

I guess after reading the AV Club bit and some Indiewire articles I can appreciate the thing more. Still don’t know whether it’s an authentic new york indie rock scene document, or a comedy/mockery of that scene. Given the levels of irony involved in the “scene”, is there a difference?