Funny Pages review – a delightfully dark coming-of-age comedy | Cannes 2022

AAs a child actor, Owen Kline played Jesse Eisenberg’s little brother in The Squid and the Whale, Noah Baumbach’s harrowing comedy about a middle-class New York family destroyed by divorce, starring Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney as warring parents. Kline played the troubled 12-year-old who sympathizes with his mother and has developed the habit of secretly masturbating in public.

His feature debut as a director features many of the same sick themes. This is a genuinely bizarre, surprising, totally lo-fi and fun indie picture with the refreshingly bad taste impact of Todd Solondz or Robert Crumb. Daniel Zolghadri plays Robert, a talented high school graphic designer and cartoonist who idolizes his art teacher – the man who most likely would have been about to sexually abuse him before fate took a terrible hand.

We start off as this inspirational teacher, Katano (Stephen Adly Guirgis) challenges Robert to creatively wake up, get out of his comfort zone, and maybe draw him naked, maybe? Polite and docile Robert says yes and Katano undresses – his tall, obese middle-aged body is fully revealed when his vast white boxer shorts are thrown off. Poor Robert draws him as best he can and on his way home later, Katano pulls up next to him in his car and insists on offering Robert a lift – pulling into the oncoming traffic lane. reverse.

The ensuing series of shocking events culminates with Robert getting a lowly filing job at the district attorney’s office, secretly sketching out the various thugs and hopelessness he sees through both sides of the law. The rest of the time, he obsessively hangs out at the local comic book store, cultivating his fanatical craft. He imperiously tells his uptight parents (played by Josh Pais and Maria Dizzia) that he has no intention of going to college, preferring instead to follow his artistic calling – sanctified, of course, by this noble teacher. He even intends to get away from the comfortable family home of Princeton, New Jersey, and to the tough neighboring town of Trenton, he rents a nightmarish room from the ineffably creepy owner Barry (Michael Townsend Wright) .

But it’s in the DA’s office that Robert is electrified by a discovery: Among the gallery of losers and creeps is Wallace (Matthew Maher), who Robert realizes was once the “color wizard” on some of the comics he likes. Robert makes it a confused mission to either befriend or redeem Wallace, an act of homage he considers appropriate for a young master like himself. But utterly awful and very insane Wallace, by his own admission, had no creative input into these comics and can do nothing but drag Robert into awful chaos: the not funny pages of the real life.

There are some great cameos, including a hilarious one from the legendary Louise Lasser as the mean lady at a pharmacist’s. To watch this film is to remember Paul Giamatti’s performance as dark cartoonist Harvey Pekar in American Splendor (2003) or the real Robert Crumb, the dark master of offensive sexual transgression in the classic documentary Crumb (1994) of Terry Zwigoff, as well as his unforgettably unhappy and marginalized brothers Charles and Max. Funny Pages is about that kind of view of Crumb in the comics, which either confronts or exorcises, or is just a cry for help. I spent a good part of this movie gasping and laughing hysterically, often at the same time.

Funny Pages screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

Calvin W. Soper