We’ve already discussed A24 once during this summer movie season, thanks to the delightful Bodies Bodies Bodies. In the contemporary Hollywood climate, few movie studios bring the loyalty A24 does with each passing feature. With their newest release, Funny Pages, the studio again shows how deep their stable of talent is. They grant a new generation of up-and-coming creators a platform to push boundaries, take risks and make audiences think. Will Funny Pages continue A24’s successful run? Well, read on for everything you need to know!
Funny Pages follows Robert (Daniel Zolghadri), who, after the traumatic death of his mentor, decides he’s done with the regimented, college-bound life his parents envisioned for him. So, he strikes out on his own to hopefully gain life experience and “make it” as an artist. The film co-stars Matthew Maher, Miles Emmanuel, Josh Pais, Ron Rifkin and Andy Milonakis. Owen Klein directs the movie from his script.
In his feature-length debut, Klein produces an aesthetic that is as real, gritty and anti-escapist as possible. As a viewing experience, Funny Pages is grimy, sweaty and ultimately, very real. Speaking honestly, the aesthetic did not work for me. Yours truly’s viewing preferences can best be described as “Glamorous Hollywood Escapism.”
However, Klein’s crafting of this particular aesthetic choice hits hard. Fans of works like Uncut Gems and Good Times should dig Funny Pages. Those films are very similar viewing experiences. Benny and Josh Safdie (directors of Uncut Gems and Good Times) are also billed as producers. These movies are very similar animals, and the more experienced directors’ influence is felt in Klein’s work.
Funny Pages marks Daniel Zolghadri’s first starring effort. The youngster brings a handful of supporting credits, but this is their first leading role. Zolghadri excels, giving a powerful performance in this unflinching film. As a character, Robert can be a struggle. He’s kind of a jerk. His family, his friends — it seems no one is safe from his ego.
That said, Zolghadri finds a sense of sympathy in this opinionated teenager. Even deeper still is a profound sense of loneliness inherent in this character. Mr. Katano (Stephen Adly Guirgis), the one figure he truly gels with, dies violently in the movie’s first five minutes. With Mr. Katano goes the only person Robert feels understands him (and his art, for that matter).
In Funny Pages, Klein crafts a powerful meditation on outsiders. In this grimy setting, no one truly fits in, and the film is aware of this. Every character is, at some level, on the outside looking in. Yet, no one can communicate enough to break through these barriers. This ultimately leads to a host of complex, almost toxic relationships. No one feels understood. No one is heard, and as such, the isolation every one of these characters feels is allowed to continue.
While Klein’s script is undoubtedly savvy as it relates to these characters and their struggles, this doesn’t translate to an easily accessible tone. There are movies you enjoy watching, and there are works that feel like a chore. The script’s harsh and abrasive tone does make you contemplate the state of humanity. However, if you aren’t gelling with this movie, Funny Pages is equally able to remind you of your last painful family holiday. So much yelling!
It is perhaps harder to fall in with the film’s tone because there is some real love for the characters. This extends beyond simply Robert to the talented supporting cast. Matthew Maher brings an exceptionally layered and complex performance as Wallace, a former Image Comics inker struggling with his personal demons. Josh Pais is memorable as Robert’s overwhelmed father. Even Michael Townsend Wright cuts a powerful yet sympathetic figure as Robert’s troubled roommate Barry.
Funny Pages makes a definite point establishing writer and director Owen Klein as an up-and-coming talent. In his feature-length debut, the young artist crafts a powerful, vivid, challenging slice of life. Funny Pages doesn’t just know its characters and their struggles; it also understands them. This script gets humanity in all our painful and frustrating complexity. As I often find myself writing, audiences need to know what they’re sitting down for. This in-depth character examination certainly heralds the next generation of up-and-coming talent, but that doesn’t make it a fun sit.
Fans of production company A24’s standard fair, mainly works like Uncut Gems and Good Times, will undoubtedly find much to like about Funny Pages. However, those looking for some fun summertime escapism should look elsewhere. This will not scratch the joyful, exciting itch you’re looking for.
Funny Pages is available now in theaters and through VOD and streaming outlets.
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This review was originally published 8/31/22.