I'm not entirely sure where the line is between true mumblecore and just low-budget, DIY moviemaking, but whatever Bicycle Lane lacks in bedhead authenticity it more than makes up for in scrappy, humanistic charm. The story of a wannabe suitor riding a girl's bike across Los Angeles on a hot summer day in order to attend his potential lady friend's birthday party, writer-director Jeffrey Ruggles beautifully uncovers details both sublime and mundane in his debut film.
Don Black plays Don, a doughy hipster (aren't we all) who finds himself carless on the very morning of the birthday party of Alli (Allison Breckenridge), his cute coworker. Refused a ride by his hostile roommate, Don turns to a nutty female neighbor for help, but he ends up with a bicycle – a crappy pink one with a basket on the front, no less – as his only means of transportation from one side of LA to the other. Hilarity ensues as Don struggles to keep cool, and keep his cool, as he moves from one neighborhood to the next, encountering and increasingly odd obstacles – including an obnoxious coworker, a bike cop, and bum who steals his ride - en route to his romantic destination.
As shaggy and unpredictable as the dialogue is, Ruggles does a terrific job keeping the film's narrative focused, and doesn't dote on impressionistic details that sometimes sideline other mumblecore-aesthetic films from becoming more meaningful works. Smart, straightforward tracking shots follow the character from one location to the next, and single-shot exchanges at destinations give the story a naturalistic, lived-in feeling. As Don, meanwhile, Black steps comfortably into the character's tattered Vans, giving him not only a quick wit and perverse desperation, but surprising dignity even as he continues to pedal his way through one offense or humiliation after another.
Like a lot of low-budget films about twentysomethings and their personal woes, Ruggles' debut is a modest effort, but it's not unambitious, and it augurs good things to follow when and if the writer-director attempts to tell bigger and more substantial stories. But a light, sincere touch is precisely what these small films need in order to succeed, and Bicycle Lane is a perfect example of how small-scale storytelling can make a big impact.