The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/Curzon] - FUNNY PAGES | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/Curzon] - FUNNY PAGES

funny pages review
A budding teenage cartoonist attempts to befriend a troubled former comics artist.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Owen Kline

Starring: Daniel Zolghadri, Matthew Maher, Maria Dizzia, Josh Pais, Miles Emanuel, Marcia DeBonis

funny pages poster

A few years ago we got a spate of movies in which normies found themselves hanging out in the company of troubled celebs like Marilyn Monroe (My Week with Marilyn), James Dean (Life) and Miles Davis (Miles Ahead). Owen Kline's directorial debut Funny Pages has a similar setup, but the "celeb" in question here – Wallace (Matthew Maher), a washed up, embittered and dangerous former colour separator for a comics publisher - only holds that status in the mind of the film's young protagonist, budding 18-year-old cartoonist Robert (Daniel Zolghadri).

Funny Pages is executive produced by the Safdie brothers, and you can see why they were attracted to Kline's film. It has the same scuzzy energy as their own work and is populated by a similar roster of deadbeats and weirdoes, along with a central character who is almost impossible to warm to yet always engaging.

funny pages review

Like a Gen-Z Holden Caulfield, Robert is a smartass kid who thinks he knows better than any of the adults around him, and this leads him into volatile situations, often involving possible sexual threats. The first of these scenarios comes in the film's arresting pre-credits sequence, in which we see Robert's art teacher, Mr. Katano (Stephen Adly Guirgis), strip naked and ask Robert to draw him. It's never quite clear whether Katano is doing this for some sexual thrill or as his own misguided way of encouraging Robert's art (his obese form resembles those of the Robert Crumb inspired caricatures Robert favours in his cartoons), but Robert soon becomes uncomfortable and makes his excuses. Katano catches up with him and offers a lift in his car just before another vehicle arrives speeding out of nowhere, killing the teacher on impact.

Katano had encouraged Robert to skip college and devote himself to his art. Despite his parents' (Maria Dizzia and Josh Pais) disapproval, Robert follows that advice, leaving home to move into an incredibly dingy basement sub-let whose tenants – the elderly Barry (Michael Townsend Wright) and the middle-aged Steven (Cleveland Thomas Jr) – pose a similarly ambiguous threat as his late teacher. With the heating constantly jacked up, the basement is like a boiler room, soaking everything in sweat – it makes for one of the most memorable locations of recent movies and you might feel the need for a shower by the time the credits roll.

funny pages review

After breaking into his late teacher's apartment to retrieve some of his drawings, Robert is arrested and insists on taking on a public defender, Cheryl (Marcia DeBonis), rather than the lawyer his parents want to employ. Cheryl wins the case and is charmed by what she sees as Robert's "independent spirit," taking him on as her secretary/gopher. Robert's naivete is compounded by his ecstatic reaction to his first pay cheque, a grand total of $63.

While working for Cheryl, Robert comes into contact with Wallace, who has been charged with assaulting the manager of a local pharmacy. Wallace is clearly deranged but when Robert learns he once worked for Image Comics he becomes obsessed with adopting Wallace as his mentor. After initially fobbing the kid off, Wallace decides to exploit Robert's enthusiasm, charging him $300 for an art lesson and roping him into an act of revenge against the pharmacist. Things come to an explosive head when Robert invites Wallace to his family home for Christmas.

Funny Pages has a loose episodic structure that falls somewhere between 'Catcher in the Rye' and Withnail and I. At first glance it may seem we're in for a typical American indie coming-of-age story, but Robert never really comes of age and there isn't so much a story as a series of events and confrontations, ending at a point that comes across like the film is missing its final act. Some viewers may find this lack of closure frustrating, while for others it will be refreshingly honest. How many of us really "come of age" as a teenager, regardless of how dramatic the events we experience are? Sure, we learn lessons, but it's usually only later in life that we realise what we should have taken away from certain experiences.

funny pages review

Obsessed with the idea of "subversion," Robert purposely makes the worst choices at every turn, often putting himself in potential danger. Most of us over a certain age will identify with his parents' frustration, yet we can understand why Robert might be acting in such a manner. We're constantly told that to produce great art you need to have life experience, something Robert's not going to get staying in his cloistered middle class world. Is Funny Pages somewhat autobiographical on Kline's part? I suspect so, as the characters and situation here feel relatable despite their outrageousness.

Zolghadri is quite the find, charming enough to make you realise why people like his doting friend Miles (Miles Emanuel) stick with him, yet also possessing a sinister quality, as though Robert might turn to a mass shooting if this cartoon business doesn't pan out. A character actor who is the very definition of "oh, it's that guy," Maher gets a rare meaty part and delivers one of the year's most thrilling performances, his Wallace as scary as he is hilarious.

Funny Pages
 is in UK/ROI cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from September 16th.

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