|as a darkly comic character study, rather than an enlightening examination of art and society
|Daniel Zolghadri, Matthew Maher, Miles Emanuel, Andy Milonakis, Cleveland Thomas Jr, Josh Pais, Marcia DeBonis, Maria Dizzia, Michael Townsend Wright, Mitchell Wenig, Ron Rifkin, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Tony Hassini
|16th September 2022
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
An aspiring illustrator and comic-book artist, Robert (Daniel Zolghadri) has a bit of a personal crisis after seeing his teacher killed in a road accident. He drops out of college and leaves his comfortable middle-class home, moving into a grimy room in a seedy basement flat in the roughest part of New Jersey.
After he gets in a little trouble with the police, a public defence lawyer, Cheryl (Marcia DeBonis) manages to keep him out of jail and he ends up taking an admin job with her, where he comes into contact with a range of ne’er-do-wells.
When he discovers that one of them, Wallace (Matthew Maher), used to work for a top comic publisher, he asks him to give him some lessons – even though he’d only ever been a colourist.
With his relationship with his own parents balancing on a knife-edge, Robert is trying to make sense of life and wonders whether getting lessons from Wallace will be more helpful for him, or Wallace, in getting life back on the straight and narrow.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
There was a time when this kind of low-budget American independent film was all the rage, but they seem to be few and far between these days.
Funny Pages explores areas familiar to American Splendor, in which Paul Giamatti played the comic-book artist Harvey Pekar. It also feels like a thematic cousin to some of the early films of Todd Solondz.
It’s sharp – but the humour is darker than the black lines in a comic-strip.
It’s occasionally enlightening and often surprising, but there is a sense that the opening scene of the film could have foreshadowed a more interesting experience than the one we end up with.
It feels like it’s building up to be a story of redemption – how two people’s lives were saved by comic-books – but then it seems to drift off somewhere else entirely, and just when you think it’s going somewhere interesting, it stops.
The end is so sudden, it’s as if they lost the final reel.
Usually, a film that leaves you wanting more is good – but in this case, you feel short-changed and frustrated and feel that you’ve given time to these people for no reward.
What felt like it was going to be an illuminating examination of friendship, rebellion, teenaged angst and ambition, becomes less of a useful exploration of the New Jersey class-gap or the underbelly of society as it is a study of a bunch of selfish losers who don’t really deserve any of what they’re striving for as they do their best to destroy their own lives and those of everyone around them.
It’s darkly funny but bitterly nihilistic – this might be director Owen Kline’s first edition, but it won’t be his magnum opus.