Filmmaker Tim Sutton has a pretty dark view of the world. Sutton consistently makes movies that have about as dour a sensibility as it gets. In some ways, he’s a brutalist posing as a storyteller. Sometimes, it works, like in Dark Night, though other times, like in Donnybrook, it does not. Now, with Funny Face, he’s taking at least a small step towards the light. It’s still a challenging and dark flick, but one that does somewhat hint at a degree of hope. Sutton still has a ways to go before he completely balances it out, but once he does, watch out. Something special is bound to happen. For now, we have works like this, which are flawed, but worth your time.
Funny Face is a film that doesn’t ever bend to your expectations. The initial set-up does suggest a revenge tale, perhaps even a superhero origin story. There are sporadic hints of something like that, but largely, this is a character study. More than anything else, we watch as people at crossroads deal with a modern evolution of Brooklyn that leaves little room for long time residents.
In Coney Island, Saul (Cosmo Jarvis) lives in a project with his grandparents, Benj (Dan Hedaya) and Fernie (Rhea Perlman). They’re being evicted as the building is being torn down for a parking lot, part of a modern new development. At the same time, Zama (Dela Meskienyar) is feuding with her uncle and aunt, ultimately running away from home. A chance encounter pairs Saul and Zama, two loners who certainly need a friend. Their worlds are changing, regardless of how they may feel about it.
While Saul and Zama bond, the Developer (Jonny Lee Miller) is trying to make sure his project succeeds. As both progress down divergent paths, for all the money it seems like the three are on a collision course with each other. That even seems more likely once the former are decidedly on the latter’s radar, given Saul’s determination to stop the parking lot from going up. However, the avenue with which that resolves itself is both surprising for this type of film but also very much in keeping with real life.
It takes a while to warm up to Cosmo Jarvis and Dela Meskienyar. Once you do, however, they turn in interesting performances that aren’t easily shaken. Jonny Lee Miller is one-note and fairly dull, but Jarvis and Meskienyar work. They’re both so quiet, when the former has his outbursts, it’s actually somewhat welcome. Frankly, the best performance in the movie comes from Victor Garber, with a one scene masterclass opposite Miller. Playing his rich father, Garber hints at another avenue the film could have gone down, had the scope been larger.
Tim Sutton deserves credit for setting the flick in real Coney Island neighborhoods, even if the slightly pretentious screenplay sometimes holds him back. Some touches don’t work, while others, like the constant New York Knicks games on the radio, are genius. In fact, when Saul gives a monologue about what rooting for the awful Knicks means to a native New Yorker, as his city disappears, is actually heartbreaking. That scene showcases what Funny Face could have been, especially as it avoids being a true revenge tale at all turns.
Funny Face will frustrate a lot of people, but it somehow really sticks the landing. The end result is a very mild recommendation from me, but a recommendation nonetheless. You have to get on its wavelength, and that takes time, but once it does, something fairly interesting arises. If your curiosity has been piqued, give it a shot.