Delightful disillusion springs from the darkly comedic ‘Funny Pages’ – Tone Madison
Owen Kline’s first coming-of-age feature will premiere at the UW Cinematheque on September 15.
There has been no shortage of coming-of-age films for young men in recent memory (see: Childhood, moonlight, and good boys published between 2014 and 2019). Often they follow a formulaic path to self-discovery and offer a redemption arc at their end. funny pages (2022) bucks that trend and does no such thing, making it one of the most engaging releases this year. He has his Madison Premiere at the UW Cinematheque Thursday, September 15 at 7 p.m.
First director Owen Kline (whom you might remember as the freaky kid cumming all over the school from Baumbach’s The squid and the whale in 2005) doesn’t cling to heartfelt, sentimental moments between father and son or romantic boy-meets-girl tropes, and ends with one of the most delightfully misanthropic movies I’ve seen in a long time. Kline takes a limitless approach to the ebbs and flows of encountering his heroes.
The film features teenage protagonist Robert Bleichner (Daniel Zolghadri) reviewing some of his work with art school teacher Mr. Katano (Stephen Adly Guirgis, somewhat of a Robert Crumb analogue). His teacher is absolutely thrilled with his work and says Robert really has what it takes to be a professional draftsman now. Good enough for the likes of one mad magazine, same. Shortly after this interaction, Katano has an unfortunate accident and Robert decides to tell his unfortunate parents Jennifer and Lewis (skillfully played by Maria Dizzia and Josh Pais) that he has decided not to go to college at the fall and pursue comics instead. – full time drawing. Although dismayed, they ultimately decide to let Robert chart his own path and find out what the world is really about.
His best friend, Miles (Miles Emanuel) is a bit of a close speaker, but it’s very encouraging. In fact, it could be too encouraging, confronting Robert about his own concepts and designs while Robert is busy trying to get his indie comic off the ground. Robert considers Miles to be encroaching on his territory. Also, as an artist, Miles is mediocre at best.
In order to make ends meet and pay rent, Robert gets a job with a court-appointed attorney (Marcia DeBonis). It is there that he meets by chance Wallace Shearer (Matthew Maher), who works with the public defender after having a violent altercation with a pharmacist from the Rite-Aid. Wallace is extremely acerbic, prone to violent outbursts, and lacking in social skills. He also happens to be a former colorist at Image Comics. So when Robert finds out about this, he sees it as a sign that he just needs to insert himself into this man’s life so he can learn more about the comic book industry.
Robert finds an apartment in Trenton, New Jersey, in the basement of a rundown apartment that could easily double for one of the sets of Hotel (2006). Two older men already live there and their relationship is not entirely clear. However, this is anything but healthy. Any normal human being would run screaming for the hills after seeing this place. But Robert sees it as the price of admission to pursue his dream, seeing himself as the quintessential struggling artist living in a slum eating ramen, devoting himself to his craft.
They say never meet your heroes, even though Wallace is more of an anti-anti-hero in funny pages. Any normal, everyday human interaction causes him pain and frustration, but Robert is undeterred at all, arranging a plan to pay Wallace for art lessons. This involves Wallace visiting Robert’s parents’ house in the suburbs. And what follows are some of the movie’s goofiest comedic scenes, as Wallace convinces Robert to go to the Rite-Aid and incite the pharmacist into an altercation. The film is full of moments when Robert, who seems to have his head on his shoulders, decides to go against all common sense. But what can we expect when we are surrounded by bad influences?
Of course, the film’s real strength lies in the casting. Matthew Maher brings a biting wit to Wallace, while instilling a certain level of pathos in him. Emanuel portrays Miles as the quintessential tactile comics nerd who opines, “Form is more important than soul”, before experiencing Wallace on the edge.
Robert’s other part-time gig at a comic book store is filled with all the outcasts and locals one would expect at those establishments, much like Stephen Frears. High fidelity. These scenes relate to anyone who actually spent more than five minutes in one. Each neckbeard is a cognate spirit to Comic Book Guy from The simpsons, increasing and decreasing on the damage Sir Volkencraft can do to Baldur’s Gate. By funny pages‘ last moments, I was reminded of Ronald Bronstein’s grungy microbudget work, Frownland (2007). And, surprise, Bronstein is actually a producer on this movie, along with Benny and Josh Safdie (of Good time). Their films, just like funny pagesdrips with misanthropy, leaving the viewer with a solid punch in the gut.