Joe Swanberg’s second film is far more enticing than his first, Kissing on the Mouth, mainly because it has a bit more of something to say. LOL sees Swanberg looking around and assessing the state of things in 2006, notably our increasing reliance on technology; mobile phones and laptop screens dominate the images, characters have jobs which rely on digital interfaces, relationships blossom and break because of all the hardware. Needless to say Swanberg’s concerns are pretty clear and the fact he shot this on consumer quality DV (as he did most of his early films) feels apt. It’s a film both about and a result of the booming digital age.
Eleven years have passed since LOL and the presence of laptops, mobiles and countless other digital devices has become all-encompassing in our every day life so the film is somewhat charming in how seemingly worried Swanberg was about their unthreatening-compared-to-today dominance. A version of LOL set in 2017 would surely send these characters into existential apocalypse*. Though interestingly this theme does occaisonally rear its head again and again in many of Swanberg’s subsequent films.
Swanberg’s playfulness goes a long way to soften the film’s rougher edges and minimal content too. The narrative occasionally breathes out in a number of fun musical interludes reminiscent of the early days of YouTube. You know those acapella videos where a bunch of people make weird noises then someone edits them together to form a musical beat? Swanberg creates a series of those and uses them to break up the endless scenes of twenty-somethings mumbling in bland rooms. It also makes the movie more worthwhile formally and while it would be easy to interpret Swanberg’s movie as a damnation of all that ominous tech, those moments emphasise the creative possibilities of the technology and balances the message out in a nice way.
Anyone averse to films branded with the “mumblecore” label would probably rather bang their head against a laptop than sit through this but as a Swanberg fan slowly making my way through his extensive back catalogue I found it to be quite a pleasing and creative little collection of pixels. Swanberg’s drive to just make films however he can about whatever is on his mind might lead to many impulsive, meandering and slight works but as a collective they all say something worthwhile about their author during the time they were made. It’d be easy to look at these films and be inspired to make your own movies; not just because they look like something you could achieve aesthetically, but mainly because they reinforce the idea that creative expression, in whatever form it takes, is a good thing.
*Let’s not forget Jason Reitman tried and failed to do something of a modern retelling of this movie with the drastically misjudged Men, Women & Children. It definitely feels like the time to have characters worry about the presence of black mirrors in their life has long passed.