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Film Review: ‘Funny Pages’ is One Strange Duck

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Well now. You don’t get to say this too often, but I can sincerely say that you’ve never seen anything like Funny Pages. The film, which is a hybrid between a character study and a micro-budgeted cringe comedy, is completely one of a kind. Some of that is due to the young filmmaking voice being so distinct. On the other hand, some of it is due to just how cinematic some of the movie is. That mix makes this a pretty hard sell for most, but for those who really gravitate towards it, the flick is really going to resonate in a big way.

Funny Pages is one strange duck, but it’s so unusual, it keeps you staring at the screen. Sometimes, it’s because you’re curious or compelled. Other times, it’s because you’re damn near repulsed. However, you’ll never be bored. Everything, from the unusual look of every character, down to the very odd details showcased, make this something you sure haven’t seen before. Even if I was equal parts intrigued and put off by this, I can’t help but respect it.

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We meet teenaged artist Robert (Daniel Zolghadri) during a meeting with his art teacher, Mr. Katano (Stephen Adly Guirgis). Robert draws near pornographic cartoons, but he has a major gift, one that the teacher encourages, urging him to nurture it, even at the expense of college. He’s also more than willing to have Robert draw him nude, so this isn’t exactly a normal teacher/student relationship. But, that meeting sets up how Robert and his friend Miles (Miles Emanuel) end up in a mistaken case of breaking and entering, helping to drive Robert away from his parents, Jennifer (Maria Dizzia) and Lewis (Josh Pais), quitting school in the process.

Setting up shop in the worst apartment on the face of the planet, located in a Trenton basement and inhabited by Barry (Michael Townsend Wright), Robert soon encounters the troubled Wallace (Matthew Maher), who was once upon a time a cartoonist. Currently, he’s in trouble with the law, but Robert sees a mentor in him, unwilling through Wallace might be. Thus, a friendship potentially blossoms, with Wallace fighting it all the way.

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The cast are all fully committed to this occasionally bizarre film. Daniel Zolghadri gets a showcase like never before, with the same going for Matthew Maher. Both make the most of it, essaying unlikable characters who don’t quite grow on you, but whose wavelengths you eventually get onto. The weirder the character, the more attention the movie pays to them, leaving someone like Josh Pais with less to do. At the same time, it’s clearly intentional, much as it’s not always satisfying. Supporting players include Marcia DeBonis and Ron Rifkin, among others.

Filmmaker Owen Kline goes about as lo-fi as possible here. This feature debut is certainly a calling card, not just for his writing and directing skills, but for his unique worldview. Everything about this feels one of a kind and direct from the mind of Kline. Not all of it works, but the fact that he was able to put it out into the world is worth giving some credit to. The design of that apartment alone, which might give you nightmares, is one for the ages.

Funny Pages won’t be for everybody. In fact, I feel confident in saying that it’s not for most people. At the same time, that specificity is what gives the film its personality. You’re either going to dig what Kline is cooking up or have absolutely no use for it. That sort of singular approach is less and less common, so even if this is a mild recommendation, it’s a recommendation nonetheless.

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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