Mechanical Bulls (dir. Jake Schick, 2023)
Review: Mechanical Bulls
The film is a welcome addition to the familiar territory of the post-college canon.
By Natalie Duerr
On a humid evening on the Lower East Side, an audience gathered at University Settlement Housing for a screening of Mechanical Bulls. It wasn’t your typical theater set-up—fold-out chairs were strewn across wooden bleachers, and a projector whirred overhead, covering a large white wall with its image. In the end, this felt like the perfect venue for such an intimate, slice-of-life film.
Mechanical Bulls is focused and controlled, taking place on a single day and mostly in a single location with just four characters (five if you count the hallucinated cowboy). Jane (Claire Noelle Smith), May (Miranda Kang), Zach (Kenneth Andrew), and Finn (Jake Schick) are twenty-somethings who find themselves in the all-too-familiar awkward college friend group reunion. May has come back to New York to stay with Jane, Zach, and Finn while in the city on business. The shared apartment’s cluttered walls and messy tables turn the atmosphere from comfortable to stilted. While using a contained setting and limited cast may have been a decision made to accommodate filming in 2021, when pandemic restrictions were still in place, these decisions create a film that feels realistic and lived-in.
In the beginning, the characters’ conversations start as self-conscious and topical. Even though it has been years since they’ve all been together, their perceived shortcomings, chipped shoulders, and passive-aggressive digs rear their ugly heads. This behavior is all too recognizable from recent post-college graduates—either from personal experience or the relationships we see in Girls and Frances Ha. Like its predecessors, Mechanical Bulls is not afraid to show the ugly and confusing aspects of growing up and growing apart.
Smith and Kang do a brilliant job of portraying not only the often-unspoken depth of friendship between women, but the awkwardness of reconnecting with someone who used to know you better than yourself. The slightly judgemental glances and tense delivery paired with carefully considered questions conveys the dichotomy of this relationship’s past and present. May’s renewed presence in Jane’s life poses the question: is a friend someone who accepts you for who you are or someone who knows you can be better? Even though May has been out of the loop for years, she sees parts of Jane that Zach and Finn have either been blissfully unaware of or pretend do not exist.
As the four friends come together, falling into old habits of drinking, smoking, and rocking out, their wayward conversation slowly reveals the trepidation each holds. If being an adult means having a “real” job, how far will you go to pretend you have one? Who do you try to fool, and to whom do you finally admit that being an adult isn’t what you thought it would be? And if we could all be a little bit more honest with each other, wouldn’t that make this all at least feel better? To the last question, Mechanical Bulls answers resoundingly yes. While each character is struggling in their own way to temper the expectations of adulthood with its crushing reality, they spend the better part of the day pretending that isn’t the case. It isn’t until the pretenses and expectations break down that the characters can really be honest with each other.
While each character’s future and the future of the friend group is left up to the viewer to decide, the film ends on a decidedly more positive note than it started. Their relationships will never be the same as they were in college, but maybe they’ve evolved into something even better.
Mechanical Bulls is written, directed, and edited by Jake Schick and Josh Laufer. While the film is not currently available digitally, you can watch the trailer on YouTube.