An early entry in the mumblecore movement, Joe Swanberg’s Kissing on the Mouth is a raw, amateur and occasionally engrossing document of early-twenties aimlessness. Sure the production quality is shitty as hell but one of the core values of true independent filmmaking is getting something made no matter what your resources are. The thing that’s so cool about mumblecore in the evolution of digital filmmaking, is that it meant feature films with student-film resolution could actually find an audience and be seen as legit art. As long as you have a voice, emphasis on character and actors good enough to feel authentic, for a brief period you could make a film on consumer-level equipment and get it seen.
Out of all the mumblecore pioneers, I’m probably the least familiar with Swanberg’s work. Of-course I’ve seen his face crop up in countless movies but his early, formative work as director has evaded me until now. Kissing on the Mouth is very low-fi and pretty slim in terms of actual content. My favourite sequences feature little more than characters bumbling about listening to confessional audio snippets on headphones. It’s quite charming to see a mega-young Swanberg in front of the camera, complete with puppy-fat and nu-metal beard. Knowing, in hindsight, how far his career would progress and how endless his output would be you can really appreciate how naive and innocent he must have been while making this movie. The kid just wanted to express himself and make something. It’s a leap so many of us never take, no matter your age, so I really admire his resilience and determination in getting a film like this made with all the odds seemingly stacked against him.
To be so young and make a film as provocative and stripped-bare as Kissing on the Mouth – which features countless scenes of gloss-free nudity and real sex – you’ve got to have some serious balls. I mean, what happens when your Mum’s friends, or even old school friends find out you made a movie where you masturbate on camera in the shower (like for real)? If Swanberg’s gambit didn’t pay off, Kissing on the Mouth could have been a giant embarrassment hanging over him for the rest of his life. Luckily though, this film launched him on a path that he is still hasn’t veered from to this day (along with his wife Kris, who also features here). If you’re looking into modern indie film, it’s hard to avoid Swanberg’s output and influence.
I didn’t really think much to Kissing on the Mouth as an actual film. It’s an authentic depiction of the nothingness of early 20s life but that in itself doesn’t amount to heavily entertaining film or even a very memorable one. The film is more interesting to me as a development in the mumblecore movement. It’s brave and comes from a place of sincerity but the filmmaker behind it hasn’t quite crystalised yet. That being said, it’s still an important work. Glad to cross it off the watchlist.