Less histrionic but funnier are the family dynamics in Mark Duplass’s The Puffy Chair (2005; April 22 at 5:15 pm and April 24 at 6 pm at the Somerville Theatre with Duplass in attendance). Josh (Duplass’s brother and screenwriter Jay) has a band that’s folded, his new career as a booking agent seems compromising, and his long-time girlfriend, Emily, is losing patience. So he goes on an odyssey of sorts, driving his van from New York down south to pick up the 1985 purple La-Z-Boy of the title and then delivering it to his old man in Atlanta as a birthday present. Not part of the plan is Emily and his flaky brother Rhett tagging along, making for some loopily dysfunctional discussions and offbeat misadventures along the way. The Duplass brothers know their way around a kooky, loosely wrapped scene, but, as the film’s conclusion demonstrates, they can cut to the heart as well.
Another journey back to dad, or at least a father figure, motivates Linas Phillips’s docu-diary Walking to Werner (2006; April 24 at 7:30 pm at the Brattle Theatre, with Phillips in attendance). Inspired by Werner Herzog’s legendary trek from Munich to Paris to visit an ailing friend, the critic Lotte Eisner, aspiring auteur Phillips decides to walk from Seattle to his hero Herzog’s home in Los Angeles. Herzog informs him that he’ll be out of town shooting his own movie at the time, but assures Phillips that an actual meeting would just “cheapen” the film, and encourages him to set out and find his own truth.
But Phillips has already set out on the 1,200-mile march and the resulting film is an uneven but stirring collage of unwelcoming freeways, poignant road kill, eloquently pathetic passersby, potential epiphanies, and Phillips’s beaming, indomitable face (he looks like Terry Gilliam in a long blond wig, and a recurrent joke is people mistaking him for a woman) pressing onward. Is the film, as Phillips frets in one of his darker moments, childish and sycophantic? Undoubtedly, but it partakes of the audacity, madness, and “ecstatic truth” of the genius who inspired it.
Calvin Wizzig (Adam Nee) of the brothers Adam and Aaron Nee’s The Last Romantic (2006; April 22 at 6 pm at the Somerville Theatre and April 23 at 2:30 pm at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, with Adam and Aaron Nee and producer Anu Schwartz in attendance ) has traveled in the opposite direction, away from his preacher dad and into the fleshpots of New York, where he hopes to find a publisher for his oeuvre of two poems handwritten in a tiny notebook. The premise sounds a little twee and at first the treatment gets a bit annoying as the Nees tap into the affectless weirdness of Hal Hartley, even casting Hartley regular James Urbaniak as Scarvey, a hilariously prickly “published” poet whose help Calvin nakedly solicits. The women, though, save the film from the men’s delusional opacity, including an actress who takes to heart her role as a feline in an off-Broadway production called Katz, and another poet whose point of view is so playful her mere presence on the screen transforms the world into black and white.