Hannah Ha Ha

Directed by: Joshua Pikovsky & Jordan Tetewsky
Distributed by: Cinedigm

Written by Michael Clawson

Andrew Bujalski’s 2002 film “Funny Ha Ha” marked a watershed for American indie cinema, and twenty years later, its influence has still not yet receded entirely from view. For a prime example of its lasting impact, look no further than Joshua Pikovsky and Jordan Tetewsky’s “Hannah Ha Ha,” a warm, nuanced, dryly funny gem of a coming-of-age story, which finds its protagonist awkwardly venturing through early adulthood as in any number of movies in the so-called “mumblecore” genre. An immensely charming feature debut that clocks in at a slim 76 minutes, it’s in proximity with the best of its kind in the realm of American micro-budget drama.

The protagonist is Hannah, played by the endearing and hilarious Hannah Lee Thompson. She works a handful of odd jobs in the quiet, suburban small town where she lives with her dad. She walks dogs, teaches guitar lessons, and also puts in some hours at a modest vegetable farm. She isn’t making much money, but she’s content with her income and the unhurried lifestyle it affords her: in her downtime, she reads, hangs out with equally laid-back friends, or watches reruns of network TV with her dad, whose health is declining. But to her older and more professionally ambitious brother Paul (Roger Mancusi), who comes home for a visit, it’s high time that Hannah finds something more “legit” to do for work. On the cusp of her 26th birthday – the age at which she’ll be forced off her dad’s health insurance, Paul points out – Hannah reluctantly considers her brother’s advice.

Paul’s concerns for Hannah’s financial future are valid and well-intended, but he lacks the self-awareness to see how he’s pushing his own values on his younger sister. Pikovsky and Tetewsky draw this sibling dynamic with a deft hand, finding both comedy and pathos in how Hannah stoically accommodates her brother’s arrogance and hustle mentality. Her annoyance with Paul is perfectly expressed in Lee Thompson’s sarcastic quips and knowing looks; Hannah doesn’t vocally argue, however, because on some level, she’s wondering if she should follow the path that her brother has taken. As a film about siblings and a young woman grudgingly questioning her life’s direction, “Hannah Ha Ha” is delightful for how much comes through its lead actress’s emotive physicality.

Budgetary constraints might be evident in the film’s craft, but Pikovsky and Tetewsky nonetheless manage to infuse “Hannah Ha Ha” with visual and sonic grace notes. Fuzziness in the movie’s soft-focus cinematography fits with the directors’ generally gentle touch, while the easy-going mood set by the acoustic guitar on the score recalls the atmosphere of Kelly Reichardt’s “Old Joy.” More often than not, thriftiness in the film’s production adds to its charm. Besides, whatever it lacks in technical polish, “Hannah Ha Ha” more than makes up for in sweetness, humor, and depth of feeling.

“Hannah Ha Ha” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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