Review by Sean Boelman
While it is, on the surface, a documentary about a meme, Arthur Jones’s film Feels Good Man is so much more than that. Offering a personal and honest glimpse inside the artistic process of a creator whose work was taken from him in an unexpected way, this doc is equal parts entertaining and heartbreaking.
The movie follows comic artist Matt Furie as his character Pepe the Frog is taken and repurposed to be a symbol of hate, sending him on a quest to reclaim the image and restore it to his original intentions. This story is absolutely crazy, and while it is likely that those viewers who are in the know will already be familiar with the extent of the downfall of Furie’s creation, it’s unlikely that they’ll know his side of the story.
Perhaps the film’s biggest success is that it develops Furie as this tragic figure whose creation is stolen from him. It is many artists’ worst fear to have their work stolen, hence why there are so many protections in place, but the copyright situation in relation to Pepe the Frog is far from black-and-white (and is explored in the movie).
The thing that makes Furie so sympathetic is his hopeful personality. As he comes to recognize the disturbing ways in which the images originated by him are being used by abusive and hurtful communities, his desire to help not just himself (because of the personal and financial loss he will experience), but those who were hurt indirectly by them, is admirable.
There’s a definite political edge to the film, particularly as it begins to discuss some of the more notable misuses of Furie’s artwork, such as the use of Pepe in an image by notorious online personality Alex Jones, and neither Furie nor the filmmakers pull any punches. The movie very effectively addresses how this issue has become more than just a dispute over art.
The third aspect of this story isn’t explored with as much depth, and it leaves a lot to be desired. In addition to the reappropriation of Pepe as a symbol, Furie’s artwork birthed a complex cryptocurrency system, and an interview with someone who trades in these “Rare Pepes” is interesting, but hardly explores the deeper issues surrounding this process.
Stylistically, there is a lot of energy to Jones’s film. In addition to fly-on-the-wall footage, interviews, and archive materials pulled from the internet, the movie features some very impressive animation starring Pepe the Frog. Used to communicate both emotional and story beats, these sequences are what will allow the film to stick with viewers.
Feels Good Man definitely isn’t what audiences will expect from the “Pepe the Frog” movie. Excellently-crafted and telling an undeniably unique story, this is one of the most intriguing documentaries of the year to date.
Feels Good Man screens on demand (geoblocked to Canada) as a part of the virtual edition of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 20-September 2.