A grimy lo-fi celebration of the outsider, FUNNY PAGES sees first-time feature filmmaker Owen Kline draw comic influence from cult indie favourites AMERICAN SPLENDOR and GHOST WORLD. Darkly funny, this off-kilter coming-of-age story tells the tale of Robert, a New Jersey teenager and amateur cartoonist who finds himself lost and searching for creative inspiration when he is suddenly left without the guidance of his trusted mentor.
Robert, portrayed with an effortless cool by EIGHTH GRADE star Daniel Zolghadri, sketches out a path of self-destruction. Desperate for a way out of his artistic deadlock, he quits high school and leaves the monotony of his suburban family home for a mattress in a squalid sweat-lined bedsit and a stiflingly mundane admin job in the zany district attorney’s office. In these comedically bad-taste spaces, he comes across Wallace (Matthew Maher) amongst a slew of other quirky outsiders. A defendant up on an assault charge, Wallace’s history as a comic book colour corrector offers Robert the possibility of creative eutopia for which he is looking.
“The comic-book fanaticism of FUNNY PAGES and its director shows in the heart of the film and its form. Kline has chosen to keep the film’s aesthetic firmly rooted in the culture by shooting on grainy 16mm film stock, giving the images a textured quality and presence reminiscent of the comic-book page.”
Like many of the characters in FUNNY PAGES, Wallace feels like he has festered under the hand of Robert Crumb. Belligerent and overbearing, he is an unstable runaway train that the boundaries of social acceptability cannot pen in. He is an exaggerated doom-filled creation whose volatility furthers the narrative by looming over his and Robert’s friendship like a thundercloud of dread. Although Kline undoubtedly encourages us to find humour in the world and its characters, FUNNY PAGES never feels exploitative. There are moments of tenderness and togetherness between his characters that highlight Kline’s care and affection for the community from which he has emerged.
The comic-book fanaticism of FUNNY PAGES and its director shows in the heart of the film and its form. Kline has chosen to keep the film’s aesthetic firmly rooted in the culture by shooting on grainy 16mm film stock, giving the images a textured quality and presence reminiscent of the comic-book page. It is an inspired creative choice that answers a question repeatedly asked by Robert and his peers throughout FUNNY PAGES: when producing work, should the focus be on soul or form? FUNNY PAGES shows that the most entertaining and accomplished work confidently straddles both with spirit and technique.