Key dates: 2002-
What is it? Mumblecore is the shy, diffident, Billy-no-mates cousin of the American indie scene. Taking its cue from Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and in particular Claudia Weill’s little seen Girlfriends — the story of a single woman struggling her way through the New York art scene is a key Mumblecore plot staple — Mumblecore is built around an aesthetic of naturalism in storytelling (they are mostly character studies of twentysomething hipsters), performance and production value. Budgets are microscopic — Joe Swanberg made a feature for $3000 — and there is a laissez-faire attitude to audible dialogue. The directors also regularly cast each other in their own work.
The Godfather of Mumblecore is Andrew Bujalski — his first film Funny Ha Ha is cited as the movement’s opening salvo — but characteristically he denies the existence of any movement. It was Bujalski’s sound editor Eric Masunaga who coined the term in a bar at the South By Southwest film festival and Bujalski “made the mistake” of spilling it to a journo. Few movements have coined so many synonyms. Mumblecore is also known as “bedhead cinema” and “slackavetes” (a fusion of Linklater’s Slacker and US indie pioneer John Cassavetes) while the filmmakers are collectively known as “mumblecorps”.
What to watch: Funny Ha Ha (2002) (pictured top), Hannah Takes The Stairs (2007), In Search Of A Midnight Kiss (2008), Humpday (2009), Tiny Furniture (2009), Your Sister’s Sister (2011), Frances Ha (2012), Drinking Buddies (2013)
What did it influence? HBO is riffing on the Mumblecore vibe with Girls and Looking. The movement has also developed a horror off-shoot — see Baghead (2008), Entrance (2011) — known as Mumblegore.
Trivia: Making Hannah Takes The Stairs, Swanberg and the entire cast and crew lived in the same apartment they shot the movie in.
What to say: “I would be insane if I got out of bed one morning and said, ‘I’m gonna make a Mumblecore movie’. I wouldn’t even know how to.” (Andrew Bujalski)
What not to say: “I get that they’re not actors: boy, do I get that!” (Kevin Kline).