Review: Indie flick sendup in the bag

It’s not easy to make relationship chatter and mundane scenarios engaging when your characters have nothing compelling to say, but writer-directors Jay and Mark Duplass achieve such appeal in their latest anti-blockbuster, “Baghead.”

There’s humanity in the whine, credibility in the goofy plot threads and chemistry among the genres that meld in this romantic romp, bogeyman chiller and sendup of indie filmmaking.

The Duplass brothers are associated with the genus of low-concept cinema called mumblecore, and they also display qualities of their own in this follow-up to “The Puffy Chair.” Like that low-key charmer, the film is a down-to-earth indie with a do-it-yourself look, a no-star cast, a funny titular idea and a no-frills sense of how to present it effectively.

The story involves four struggling actors who attend a film-festival screening featuring a pretentious director and then decide that they, too, can make a movie. They hole up in a cabin to pen a script with plum roles for themselves, but lack ideas. Instead, they hash out relationship issues.

Basically, Michelle (Greta Gerwig), a ditsy newcomer, is attracted to Matt (Ross Partridge), a cad with movie-star looks; neither nicer but dumpier Chad (Steve Zissis), who’s crazy about Michelle, nor Matt’s longtime semi-girlfriend, Catherine (Elise Muller), is amused.

The horror begins when Michelle dreams about, or perhaps truly sees, a man with a paper bag on his head, and this becomes the subject of the group’s “Blair Witch”-like screenplay.

Soon, the “baghead” reappears. Is the creepy figure a peeved member of the group, playing a joke? Or is he a psychopath loose in the woods?

The film isn’t particularly scary or penetrating, and the characters border on tedium as they talk trivially. While the men have a buddy thing going amid their friction over Michelle, the women merely compete over Matt.

But the Duplasses, combining romance, horror and humor, have created a winning genre blend. The characters, well acted by all, are so believable that you buy even the nuttier material.

As in “The Puffy Chair,” the brothers demonstrate an understanding of relationships. A range of human themes — romantic yearnings, the frustrations of a second banana, the lengths to which people go for fame — enhances the texture.

As storytellers, the Duplasses include enough twists to keep things charged, and they offer a satisfying resolution. As humorists, they take amusing stabs at independent cinema, even as their movie exemplifies it.

Baghead

Three stars

Starring: Greta Gerwig, Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Elise Muller

Written and directed by: Jay and Mark Duplass

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour 24 minutes

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