Funny Story follows aging cult TV star Walter (Matthew Glave). Life isn’t going quite how he wishes. His first marriage crashed and burned and his family hates him. To make matters worse, his 23-year-old girlfriend (who really wanted to break up with) is now pregnant. Searching to fix the mess around him, he invites himself up to his daughter’s (Jana Winternitz) cabin for the weekend. There’s one condition… he needs to bring his daughter’s friend Kimberly (Emily Bett Rickards) up to the house. The inevitable twists and turns ensue. The film is directed by Michael J. Gallagher. from a script by Gallagher and Steve Greene.
At its roots, Funny Story is a character study. People are gray and family relationships can be messy. As a result, a great deal hangs on the performances in this piece. Luckily, the film packs an unbelievably solid ensemble, who off each other very well. The chemistry feels finely tuned and establishes not only the tone of the movie but its heart as well.
A number of the performers deserve shoutouts, particularly actress Emily Bett Rickards. Her portrayal of Kimberly sees her exploring a broad spectrum of emotions. Rickards seems to hone in on the inherent conflict within Kimberly. She’s a young woman who hasn’t had an easy run of things. She manages to be craving, but at the same time petrified of a deeply personal connection. Audiences are perhaps most familiar with Rickards work as Felicity on the popular television series Arrow. However, the actress has been spreading her wings in challenging dramatic roles and gives a career performance as Kimberly. Fans of Rickards work should definitely keep an eye out for this movie.
Journeyman actor Matthew Glave also gives a stellar performance. The film veteran has been around Hollywood since the early 1990s. Glave appears in a wide spectrum of films ranging from Argo to The Wedding Singer. In Funny Story, Glave shines as Walter. His comedic timing and delivery are perfectly set for the script. The opening minutes of the movie spotlight Walter, largely on his own. Performing straight to the camera, Glave singlehandedly dictates the comedic tone of the movie. His flair for the material and his charismatic screen presence is a perfect fit for the role.
Funny Story also stands out for a completely positive and progressive take on not only its female characters, but also in it’s depiction of multiple lesbian and bisexual characters. Much of the plot revolves around Walter’s daughter Nic (Winternitz) and Kimberly as a committed, engaged couple. The film resists any urge to needlessly or overtly sexualise the pair, focusing on them as two deeply complicated, passionate and distinctive women who love each other deeply. In fact, the film distances itself from a traditional male gaze. Instead, each of these women are quickly established as unique individuals, not simply sex objects for the pleasure of the camera.
A particularly interesting scene occurs towards the second act as the women gather around a campfire with Walter. The scene utilizes the important narrative moment, having the just beyond middle aged Walter good-naturedly ask his daughter questions about her chosen lifestyle. When he asks the group of women “Who’s the boy?”, they quickly dispel the notion. These are equal partnerships. Sometimes one person is the “agressor”, sometimes the other. He then asks when they knew they liked women. However, they quickly throw the question back on him. “When did you learn you liked girls?”. The moment is a simple and sweet one, but it does an effective (and humorous) job at normalizing and allowing us to identify with this group of strong, likeable women.
Visually, everything about this movie comes together beautifully. Funny Story makes beautiful use of picturesque locations up and down the California coast. Gallagher and his creative team do an impeccable job further using these beautiful and colorful locations to help establish the tone of the movie. The film is rich, vibrant and colorful. The beautiful shooting goes a long way to disguise the relatively short shoot duration. This is a testament to good filmmaking.
Funny Story is a definite critical darling to come out of Slamdance 2018. If you are a fan of Emily Bett Rickards and this movie isn’t on your radar, make sure it gets there. The actress gives a stand-out performance in her young career. Everything about Funny Story seems to work from the vibrant and fleshed out characters to the absolutely gorgeous visual aesthetic.
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