film review: UNCLE KENT

Directed by Joe Swanberg
Written & produced by Joe Swanberg & Kent Osborne
Cinematography by Joe Swanberg
Edited by Joe Swanberg
With Kent Osborne, Kevin Berwersdorf, Jennifer Prediger, Josephine Decker & Joe Swanberg

Kent (Kent Osborne), a solitary 40-year old animation artist, mostly sits around his Los Angeles apartment drinking beer, hitting the bong and working at his computer. Clearly Kent’s a smart and talented man whose earnestness draws people to him, but lately Kent seems to be shrinking from life.

He prefers spending time online or hanging out with his cat to actually going out and meeting someone. Joe Swanberg’s new movie “Uncle Kent”, one of the Sundance Selects choices that will air on VOD during the course of the festival this month, finally drags the Mumblecore generation into full adulthood, kicking and screaming.

UNCLE KENT actors Jennifer Prediger & Kent Osborne; photo courtesy of Sundance Selects

Kent has become skeptical about getting married; he’s reconciled being single. Sex, for instance, is generally handled autonomously. As he says to his pal Kev (Kevin Bewersdorf), “I can sit on the couch until I’m hungry and then eat whatever I want.”  Despite his protests, its clear that he still yearns for emotional connection. Hence, inviting Kate for a weekend visit.  Kate, as played by newcomer Jennifer Prediger, is a woman Kent recently met on Chatroulette, an online video chat service. She flies in from New York City on the premise of business –she’s an environmental journalist –  but also ostensibly to figure out how she feels about Kent, not to mention the boyfriend she left at home.

In order to keep himself emotionally in check, Kent hides behind his video camera through much of their weekend. Otherwise they tiptoe around each other barely recognizing the obvious attraction they share for each other. Instead they behave almost adolescently sharing explicit and intimate details of each other’s past and current sex lives. This titillating process eventually leads them to meeting up with a young woman named —- whom they meet on Craiglist and whom they end up taking home for a threesome.  

It’s clear as long as there is a third party involved to keep them at a distance, whether it be a video camera, a boyfriend back home or a third sex partner, Kent and Kate will never realize the relationship they are both obviously looking for.  “Uncle Kent” isn’t necessarily a great movie but it does honestly explore how terrifying it is coming to terms with past decisions. What is independence in one’s 20s is loneliness in one’s 40s.

It’s a frank film and certainly the filmmaker’s most mature to date. Joe Swanberg is one of the architects of the Mumblecore genre having directed some of its best known films including “Hannah Takes The Stairs” and “Alexander The Last”. The productions values of this film remain fairly lo-fi and Swanberg unnecessarily shoe horns himself into the film.

It would be nice to see him work with a more substantial budget going forward like his comrades Andrew Bujalski and the Duplass brothers have, perhaps deciding to frame shots as opposed to intentionally not framing them.

“Uncle Kent” ends on a somber note, with Kate speeding off in her rental car and Kent, once again, alone at his computer. As he winds down from the whirlwind weekend, there is a sense that the quiet is more deafening than it was only days before.

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