Patron Pick – Funny Pages

Make sure to reply to our poll for the podcast: Which is the best Alexander Payne movie?

This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

Funny Pages (2022)
Written & Directed by Owen Kline

The United States is a grimy, skeevy place. It’s often easy for people who live in dense urban environs to mock those in “red states” when climate collapse strikes and causes devastation. They dunk on people who are ruled over by neo-fascist political figures yet fail to realize the whole damn thing is coming down on top of everybody. You wouldn’t think such an insight would be found in a New York/Hollywood nepotism baby but America is full of surprises. Owen Kline, the son of actors Kevin Kline & Phoebe Cates, makes his feature film debut as writer-director of this picture. Much like the dirtbag Left (see Chapo Trap House, Cumtown, etc.) I feel conflicted as to how much I trust these privileged motherfuckers but for now we’ll give them a pass, just keep your eyes on them. Kline appears to be forging the love child of Terry Zwigoff & The Safdie Brothers and it sort of works.

Robert (Daniel Zolghadri) is a high school student with a passion for cartooning. He’s not interested in mainstream comics work and prefers the edgier, irreverent indie comix scene. The film opens as he’s hanging out in the art studio with one of his favorite teachers, Connor. Connor thinks Robert’s work is lacking and undresses so the young man can do a study of his hefty body. Something in the air changes and Robert gets weirded out and starts walking home only to be followed by Connor. Even Connor seems to acknowledge the inappropriateness and wants to ensure his student didn’t “misunderstand” what happened. Then we see Connor get killed in a car accident right in front of Robert, an event that will shake up the boy’s life. This sequence is sort of the machine around which Funny Pages is built. A moment can feel inspiring, creatively powerful and then flip on a dime, transforming into situations that you just want to escape from.

Much like the indie comix that Robert loves, the film plays out as a collection of odd encounters & moments in the protagonist’s life. It’s not until around the halfway mark that Funny Pages begins to have a semblance of a larger narrative. If you aren’t into films that give themselves space to wander you’re not going to like this but if you appreciate the loose narratives of a Richard Linklater movie you’ll likely enjoy this one. I think Funny Pages really begins to hit its stride when Robert gets his basement apartment. This setting is such a perfect distillation of the Millennial/Zoomer late stage capitalism nightmare. It’s dark, humid & sweaty, and there are restrictive rules about being home by a certain hour or you’ll find yourself locked outside. 

Robert clashes with his parents about his passions. They are played expertly by Maria Dizzia (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and Josh Pais (Joker) who are just the right level of condescending and completely out of it parents. Everything is about practicality and comfort and they just cannot fathom why their son is obsessed with being a bohemian. Robert ends up with new parents in the form of the sweaty pair of nerds he shares his apartment space with. In many ways, both pairs of parents are omens of the type of person Robert could become if he gives up on his ambitions. The parental figure Robert bets all his chips on is Wallace (Matthew Mahler), a mentally unwell man who mentions in passing he was a colorist’s assistant at Image Comics for like a week. Robert gets it in his head that this man can be the example to his parents of success in the industry, something that will obviously be wrong to the audience. Wallace is not a well person. 

What confounded me most about Funny Pages was that by the end of its 90 minute runtime, I didn’t really understand what Kline was trying to say. This is a film centered around Robert’s aspirations crumbling and his naive way of looking at the world being torn away by the ugly nature of reality. What I decided on was that Funny Pages exemplifies the sort of reasonably bleak outlook young people have today about the world. Your dreams aren’t really a thing the world is going to help you achieve, especially if those dreams serve counter purposes to the infinite elder god of Capitalism. The movie just sort of ends on a note of humor, reminiscent of a punchline you might find in the same comix Robert idolizes. Understanding where he goes from here is a complete mystery. He may give up on the whole thing and follow his parent’s advice, he might become the sweaty hermit that terrifies him, or he could be like Wallace living in this state of constant paranoia and inability to gain traction. 

Ultimately Funny Pages is an amusing film, a collection of bits and pieces centered around a single character’s coming of age. I don’t think it’s as good as something like The Worst Person in the World in balancing harshness with empathy but it’s an extremely vivid perspective on a world that is dying. The horrors of Robert’s basement apartment will stick with you long after the movie is over. You’ll likely find the ending anticlimactic but that sort of feels completely appropriate for a picture like this. There’s certainly not going to be a happy ending so there’s no ending at all. Some strange & weird shit happens and then the credits roll. The essential ingredients for all good movies.

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