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Though the word can be traced back to 2005, it has become widely used only in the latter part of 2007. It’s a film genre whose name reflects the low esteem in which it is held by critics. In August, the International Herald Tribune said, “Specimens of the genre share a low-key naturalism, low-fi production values and a stream of low-volume chatter often perceived as ineloquence. Hence the name: mumblecore.”

A frame from the film 'Hannah Takes The Stairs'
Hannah Takes The Stairs, directed by Joe Swanberg and starring Greta Gerwig, Mark Duplass, Kent Osborne and Andrew Bujalski.

You might add ultra-low budgets, independent production, improvised dialogue and non-professional actors to the list of features. The genre, the article went on to say, is more a loose collective or even a state of mind than an actual aesthetic movement. However, it has been getting a lot of attention recently and has been named a Hot Genre by Rolling Stone magazine. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram of Texas reflected the uncertainty about its enduring value in a catchline in a story on 4 November about the Lone Star International Film Festival: “Mumblecore: The future of cinema or just really annoying nonsense?” Among the mumblecore films most often mentioned are Funny Ha Ha and Hannah Takes the Stairs.

The tiny/arty film movement known as “mumblecore” has built an entire bemused worldview out of the perspective of overeducated, undermotivated twentysomething guys who can’t commit to a declarative statement, let alone a career or girlfriend.

Entertainment Weekly, 18 Oct. 2007

My big complaint about these Mumblecore movies is that they are not grounded in any sort of economic reality. Nobody works, and nobody has trouble making rent while living their bohemian lifestyle.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 28 Sep. 2007

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 1 Dec. 2007

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 1 December 2007.