Owen Kline’s directorial debut is grimy, weird, and most importantly subversive; Funny Pages might be a classic coming-of-age film in terms of its focus on a teenager struggling to grow up, maintain friendships and deal with annoying parents, but its characters, events and the way in which it depicts them is hugely refreshing. Within the scuzzy world of teenager and aspiring cartoonist Robert Bleichner (Daniel Zolghadri, Eighth Grade), there is a sweaty-as-hell comic book masturbation moment, a gross head injury, and a generally odd vibe that Kline vigorously leans into with his witty mumblecore script. Funny Pages has a meandering quality to its narrative – a mirror image of so many teenage lives, but something that is not always captivating on screen – but its forward thinking and brave subversion of the genre marks it out as a memorable watch.
Starting with an uncomfortable scene of nudity, Funny Pages never lets up on the weirdness throughout its brisk 86-minute runtime. Robert’s sole focus and passion are cartoons; he works at a local comic book store, draws fervently in his spare time, and the only career choice for him is within this artistic world. And yet, as is so often the case in life, things don’t work out as planned. Robert has a difficult relationship with his parents, with an enforced move out of his childhood home to a dingy apartment with two older men opening up just one of many bizarre subplots containing equally bizarre supporting characters. The main plot of Funny Pages begins when Robert meets Wallace (an entrancing Matthew Maher, Gone Baby Gone, Captain Marvel) a man seeking legal counsel for attempted assault and a former colourist at a comic book publisher, but there is plenty of time along the way for other mishaps and misdemeanours to take place on the side.
Even before seeing the Safdie brothers pop up as producers in the end credits, it’s clear their fingerprints are all over this. Funny Pages has that street-level authenticity to it, that darkly comic, often bleak edge that comes with telling stories of people who don’t always feel like they belong in society; Sean Price Williams – DOP on the Safdies’ Heaven Knows What (2014) – is also on cinematography detail, along with Hunter Zimny. Funny Pages looks and feels authentically dirty in the best possible way, and Kline moves from the funny to the dark to the violent with seamless ease.
Zolghadri shines as Robert. Like Saoirse Ronan’s titular character from Lady Bird (2017), Robert is selfish and sees the world only through the lens of his own desires. Whilst Lady Bird changes as that film draws to a close, Robert’s journey is far less enlightening for him. The relationship with his parents never moves even close to reconciliation (more depth and time should have been given to the background of this trio) and he never recognises his constant mistreatment of best friend Miles (played by a wonderfully endearing Miles Emanuel, Calidris). Robert’s lack of self-realisation can be frustrating, but it also enforces Funny Pages’ strange but grounded reality; like so many other teenagers, Robert is mean, selfish, and won’t realise it for a good few years yet.
DIRECTOR: Owen Kline
STARS: Daniel Zolghadri, Matthew Maher, Miles Emanuel, Maria Dizzia, Josh Pais
RUNTIME: 86 minutes
COUNTRY: United States