Review by Katie McKenna
In 2013, author Brett Martin analysed the television renaissance that had just occurred. Over the course of about two decades, tv had transformed from a mass-entertainment medium, something to sit in front of and shut off your brain, to a source of some of the most experimental and moving stories of recent memory. Martin set out to find out how this change occurred. By investigating the men who created these ‘peak tv shows’, he attempted to find something they all had in common. Martin wanted to find the formula for the great craftsman, for a person who can change the way art is made forever. What he found out, is that they’re all dicks.
Funny Pages (Owen Kline, 2022) follows this philosophy. Kline has created a protagonist that is so much fun to hate. A young man who will do anything to make it big as a comic artist, no matter who he has to belittle to do so. This may sound like a tired trope that we’ve all seen before in the likes of Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014) or Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014), however Kline completely subverts this.
Lead, Robert (Daniel Zolghadri) is less of an obsessed artist and more just that guy from your English class, who you’re never sure is even talented. Through slice of life vignettes, we see him attempts to inhabit the role of an obsessed artist, giving up his comfortable life for his ‘art’. But the film knows this is all a façade, Robert is a parody of these obsessed artists. Trying so desperately to emulate them, as if giving up everything will make him more talented. But instead his life just becomes more ridiculous and depressing.
Underneath its nihilism and grime, Funny Pages has a charming absurdity to it, like the kind of movie Wes Anderson would direct after a breakdown. The world is meticulously wacky, filled with supporting characters who look like they’ve been drawn by Robert himself. Each character, right down to the bit roles are perfectly cast, with each actor delivering a pitch perfect performance that will have you questioning whether you should be laughing out loud or clenching your butt. The standout of these performances though is Matthew Maher as Wallace, a troubled yet talented comic book artist, who has some of the best line deliveries in any film. During these absurd set-pieces, Funny Pages seems at its most comfortable.
However, once the film remembers it must have a plot, things begin go bad. Over the course of 90 minutes, we see events of increasing silliness, which makes the film’s ending feel like even more of an anti-climax. Kline’s writing seems to suit the short ‘funnies’ Robert aspires to write, rather than a feature film that must give audiences a sense of resolution after they’ve invested an hour and half of their time.
The difficult men Brett Martin wrote about changed television forever, because of that their bad behaviour was often excused. Kline’s difficult men are the opposite, they change nothing and are constantly punished. And like his characters’ work, Kline’s movie will not change film. But it will make you laugh out loud, and like the comics he is paying homage to it is bound to become a cult classic. Not every film needs to change the game, sometimes being a fun 90 minutes is enough.