SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2011
By Don Simpson | January 20, 2011
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writers: Kent Osborne, Joe Swanberg
Starring: Kevin Bewersdorf, Josephine Decker, Kent Osborne, Joe Swanberg, Jennifer Prediger
Kent (Kent Osborne) is a single, 40 year-old cartoonist who lives alone with his fluffy and sometimes finicky cat in Los Angeles. He spends most of his work days sketching cartoons alongside his friend, Kev (Kevin Bewersdorf), and most of his non-working hours taking hits from his bong and chatting with people on Chatroulette.
A cute environmental journalist named Kate (Jennifer Prediger), one of Kent’s Chatroulette acquaintances, crashes at Kent’s house for the weekend. Kent is well aware that Kate is currently in a long-term relationship, but he is unabashedly attracted to her intelligence, sense of humor, flirtatiousness and openness nonetheless. It does not help Kent’s state-of-mind that his time spent with Kate grows increasingly sexually charged: conversing frankly about masturbation and homoerotic fantasies, posing for raunchy photos and picking up an attractive bi-curious woman (Josephine Decker) on Craigslist. Kent is receiving mixed signals from Kate and it is really screwing with his head.
You may wonder why Kent is so obsessed with a woman who is in a serious relationship with another man. Well, it is actually quite simple. Dating for men at the age of 40 can be difficult — first and foremost because of the pesky biological clocks of women. Kent really has no interest in having children, and he certainly does not want to rush things just because the woman he is dating is running out of time to safely have a baby. Sure, Kent could start dating much younger women in order to buy some time before their biological clock progresses that far; but Kent has been affected pretty severely by his recent 40th birthday, and he seems to think of himself as being too old for that. Kent hates feeling pathetic and desperate, these are relatively novel emotions for him; more importantly, his penis is getting old and tired. Before she arrives, Kent imagines that sex with Kate would not include any attached strings, but he quickly discovers that getting into her pants will be not be quite that simple.
Co-written by Joe Swanberg and Osborne, Uncle Kent tackles multiple themes found in Swanberg’s oeuvre, most notably an emphasis on how technology and other social media influence and affect human relationships. The Internet (primarily YouTube, Craigslist and Chatroulette) plays a big role in Kent’s daily life. While home alone, Kent waits in front of his computer for someone to communicate with him via a web cam. When he is away from his computer, Kent relies on his USB flip video camera to record even the most mundane events, such as buying his first pair of reading glasses (these things happen when you turn 40!) from a pharmacy. Sometimes technology is used as a sexual tool (as in when Kent and Kate take raunchy photos via his web cam or when he uses his USB flip video camera to record Kate hooking up with the woman they met on Craigslist), other times it is quite innocent (as in when Kent does cartoon sketches of people on Chatroulette). Nonetheless, Kent exists in a constantly connected state. It appears as though there is always a camera recording his every move; and Swanberg’s self-reflexive approach to directing — such as bouncing back and forth between the footage being recorded by the characters and the footage being recorded by the cinematographer (Swanberg) — makes the audience more aware that we are watching a film. The film itself therefore becomes another layer of technology that is affecting the characters’ relationships.
I admit it. I am a big fan of Joe Swanberg. I think what really adds to my appreciation and attachment to Swanberg’s films is that they are from a perspective very similar to my own. Swanberg’s characters are aging at the same pace that I am; though, with the exception of Kent, most of his characters are closer to Swanberg’s age than to my own. (I am not quite 40 years old, but I am damn close enough to be able to relate to Kent. Swanberg is nine years younger than me.)
Like most of his Mumblecore cohorts, Swanberg makes films about what he knows; unfortunately this sometimes attracts criticism for being too limited in scope. I do not have any problems with Swanberg’s characters being from a very singular social demographic, and maybe that is because I belong to that same demographic. Besides, very few directors portray human relationships and sexuality with Swanberg’s frankness, and I suspect some of that authenticity would be lost if Swanberg ever ventured too far away from what he knows best.
While on the subject of doing what you know best, it is also worth pointing out that besides appearing in Swanberg’s last four films (Hannah Takes the Stairs, Nights and Weekends, Alexander the Last and Uncle Kent), Osborne (who made his acting debut as Emile in School Ties — a fact that pops up in Uncle Kent) has worked as a writer and storyboard artist on several children’s television programs including SpongeBob SquarePants and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.
Joe Swanberg’s Park City debut will make its world premiere in the Spotlight section at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and simultaneously on IFC Films On-Demand on January 21, 2011.