When director Joe Swanberg hit the scene with “Kissing on the Mouth,” I was impressed. The film did exactly what it set out to do: take a microscope to inner-personal relationships and show an up close view, warts and all. As much as I liked the film, there’s still a feeling that it’s a cinematic experiment with a loose narrative that soars at times and stumbles through at others. Yet it was undeniably brave and intriguing. With his second feature “LOL,” Swanberg has settled into a solid narrative while still using his “Dogme” type style to look closely at how people relate to one another…or why they can’t.
“LOL” is about three men who are way too attached to their electronic devices. Tim, who does some kind of work via computer, alienates his girlfriend Ada by never closing the damn laptop. When it is closed, his ear is fixed to a cell phone. When the two actually speak to one another, Tim seems lost and confused. Alex is a musician (more on that later) who is so fixated on a girl he’s met through an adult website, he simply cannot relate to a real-life girl named Walter who really seems to dig him. Then there’s Chris. Chris has moved to Chicago for work and has left behind girlfriend Greta in New York. As the two try and keep a spark alive through cell phones and cell phone photos, they become increasingly lonely and detached from one another.
Through that description “LOL” might seem like a lame satire on “the information age.” However Swanberg’s simplistic technique makes the film more of a thesis about how technology may bring people together from all around the world, but it also starts to make one feel less personally connected. Along with the common narrative structure, “LOL” also features some extremely cool “Noisehead” videos sprinkled throughout. The videos are close-up shots of people from all over making different mouth noises. The film’s composer and star Kevin Bewersdorf combines them through interesting screen captures and loops certain noises together to make music. He then runs them like a song that’s been created onscreen…it really has to be experienced to be understood.
Kevin Bewersdorf as Alex is a standout in the film. His talent of taking commonplace noises and making them musical is really cool and it also finds it’s way into the film. Alex plays a musician who manipulates various electronic devices and combines them with keyboards to make some really intriguing songs which he performs in the film. As a character, he is also so totally detached yet likeable, you find yourself switching between wanting to choke him for being so boneheaded and wanting to see him break out of his own head and email fixation. The same can be said for Tim but one senses his computer attachment has been festering so long, he and Ada’s relationship is in the final stages.
For non-actors, everyone in this film really pulls their character off extremely well. While Tim and Alex are fairly non-redeeming, Chris played by C. Mason Wells, genuinely seems confused, lonely and at a loss as to what to do about his girlfriend. It’s as if he’s at a crossroads between becoming a near anti-social “detachee” like his friends or throwing off the shackles of electronic devices and maintaining a real, in-person relationship. While less entertaining than the other characters, Chris’s plight seems the most genuine and most unanswered. Can a relationship exist through electronic mediums and if so, what kind of tinge will it put on the relationship? “LOL” raises many questions like these and does so in an entertaining and unique way. Swanberg continues to grow as a filmmaker and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.