Andrew Bujaski is arguably one of America’s best filmmakers. Though the Austin, TX filmmaker is unknown by a mainstream audience, in indie circles he made a splash with his first two films Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation. His latest, Beeswax, is a subtle, slow-moving masterpiece about a pair of sisters and their failings and struggles. Like a lesser-known David Gordon Green, he carves his way through scenes with a strict attention to detail: most notably, facial expressions, lighting and his ever-present dialogue.
Beeswax centers around vintage clothing store owner Jeannie, a parapalegic whose business partner Amanda is thinking of pursuing other options. At the same time, Jeannie wants her sister Lauren to buy out Amanda’s share. The sisters’ plan is for Jeannie to assume the day to day operations and Lauren to do the rest. As Jeannie’s ex-boyfriend, and confidant Merrill, an aspiring lawyer admits, “it’s a small shop, not a huge profit generator,” but something that Jeannie readily admits, “is more fun than you think.”
Though her clothing store is not the thrust of the narrative, it does serve as a backbone. Jeannie’s inability to successfully negotiate the business contract and understand her co-owner’s motivations weigh heavily on her everyday existence, from her relationship with Lauren to her relationship with Merrill. Additionally, her handicap is barely mentioned, but seems to be the axis on which most of the film’s actions turn.
Played by real-life, non-actress, twin sisters Maggie and Tilly Hatcher, Beeswax is a dialogue-centered film that relies on rhetoric and the blue-collar struggle to do the heavy lifting. While Jeannie is diligent and motivated, Lauren is free-spirited and flighty, bouncing from one teaching job to the next, and spending most of her time getting high or drunk. Her relationship with her sister, who also serves as her roommate, is civil and poignant and they share quite a few touching and true-to-life scenes.
Their civility though makes the film somewhat difficult to get through. Whereas in most scripts the denoument or rising action feature a scene of great trauma or personal strain, Beeswax does not. This simple fact doesn’t weaken the screenplay or diminish its value, but it does weigh heavily on the viewer’s attention. Talky films don’t often go over well (i.e the big picture flop Lions for Lambs) and the intended lack of flashiness will probably bore a good many viewers.
However, one would be wise to spend a few minutes sitting down to watch this. The Hatcher sisters are cinematic wonders and reveal a natural ability to convey life exactly as it is. A strong supporting cast, fueled mostly by director/writer Alex Karpovsky, also add depth and honesty to a finely acted, gorgeously photographed powerhouse. Never once do any of the scenes seem scripted, rehearsed or planned out. Instead they unravel organically and prove that the Harvard-educated Bujalski knows his way around a movie set. This tender and tame film reveals the interconnectivity of characters, siblings and lovers in a way that few films released this year have done. There’s a certain charm and charisma that shines from the opening scene to the final credits. Plain and simple, Beeswax is a true delight.