Review by Sean Boelman
Audiences may not recognize the name Owen Kline off the top of their heads, but they might recognize his most famous role, as the younger brother of Jesse Eisenberg in The Squid and the Whale. Now, Kline is making his directorial debut with the grimy coming-of-age film Funny Pages, which owes a lot to its influences but is uncomfortably funny regardless.
The movie follows a teenage cartoonist who drops out of school and rejects his comfortable suburban life in a search for “soul.” Although the film does hit some of the common beats of what it means to grow up, the movie shares more in common with the cringe comedies of filmmakers like Todd Solondz than the typical coming-of-age movie.
For the first forty minutes of the film, we watch as the protagonist seeks independence and creative expression on his own terms. The third act goes off the rails and becomes entirely chaotic. Although this is going to put some viewers off, it’s very funny and takes the characters in a very interesting direction.
Kline obviously has a love of underground comix, leading the movie to feel a bit reminiscent of other underground comix-centric films like American Splendor, but Kline’s knowledge is much less superficial. Although the biggest names, like Robert Crumb, are obviously referenced, Kline throws the audience deep into this world.
On paper, the characters seem like they should be rather annoying, but they are surprisingly compelling and sympathetic. Unlike a lot of characters that come from upper-class backgrounds and give up their privilege, he never comes off as pretentious. He makes a lot of bad decisions, but we don’t condemn him because we know the reason why he is doing it.
Daniel Zolghadri is absolutely fantastic in his leading role, the perfect amount of awkward to be lovable but not to a level that feels unnatural. In a rare prominent role, Matthew Maher is very funny and extremely uncomfortable to watch. And in his small turn, Stephen Adly Guirgis is a hilarious scene-stealer.
Like the comics to which Kline is paying homage, this movie feels very edgy and independent. Kline makes everything feel as disgusting and uneasy as possible without going overboard. The highlight of the film is the protagonist’s comics, which were created to mimic underground comix.
Funny Pages certainly isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but its shocking, darkly funny humor will be a hit with the right audience. Kline’s fiercely independent vision cements him as a filmmaker to watch.
Funny Pages hits theaters and VOD on August 26.