tue 07/02/2023

Funny Pages review - comic-book confidential | reviews, news & interviews

Funny Pages review - comic-book confidential

Funny Pages review - comic-book confidential

Safdies associate's queasily comic study of a teenage cartoonist

Portrait of the cartoonist as a young man: Robert (Daniel Zolghadri) continues his studies

Shortly after the art teacher who thinks he’s a genius jumps on a table naked to be sketched, only to meet a sticky end, high school senior Robert (Daniel Zolghadri) sets out to start his brilliant career as an underground cartoonist.

From this bedrock of delusional artistic struggle, grotesquerie and hurt, Safdies associate Owen Kline’s debut carves a queasy slice of observational tragicomedy.

His milieu is a highly personal comics subculture barely seen in cinema since Crumb, where the likes of Peter Bagge and Dan Clowes (Ghost World) paralleled grunge’s breakthrough by chronicling self-loathing losers, and Canada’s Seth fetishised obscure art of the past with proud, lonely soulfulness. Taboos are out here, and individual style unmistakable and prized.

With these examples and his gonzo art teacher’s praise driving him on, Robert spurns his parent’s privileged life in Princeton, and plunges over the other side of the Jersey tracks to the worst basement apartment in the world. Boiling when it’s not freezing, it’s shared with bizarre but punctilious landlord Barry (Michael Townshend Wright), unadvertised co-tenant Steven (Cleveland Thomas Jr.) and a vast fish-tank, piscine tenants presumed dead. His bohemian years of struggle have begun.

Matthew Maher in Funny PagesDauntless Robert diligently develops his comics, obscene funny animal strips which mix the raucous porn of early 20th century Tijuana bible mini-comics with Disney’s lineage. He also furiously sketches the caricaturists’ dream around him. Meanwhile working for an affable lawyer, he meets Wallace (Matthew Maher, pictured above), a clearly deranged, self-hating but entitled loose cannon with a past on pro comics’ lowest rung. Robert has fatally found his new guru.

Owen Kline is steeped in Robert’s clammy, artistically rich world: the comics shops, inside knowledge, sardonic stances and fetishised vintage items, forging identities outside the straight world. Growing up in New York with parents in film, he acted in Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale as a kid, and met the Safdies aged 15, working on their films in various capacities. Comics were his failed dream, since sending a funny animals strip to a newspaper syndicate aged 12, hoping to share the funny pages with Peanuts. His film is “built off personal fabric”.

Daniel Zolghadri in Funny PagesStaying inside Robert’s circumscribed, magnetically weird culture gives Funny Pages its own hermetic force. Co-cinematographer Sean Price Williams (a favourite of the Safdies and another precise New York portraitist, Listen Up Philip’s Alex Ross Perry) pushes hand-held close-ups on these sweaty grotesques, making us live in a Bagge or Drew Friedman comic, filmed in Seventies-style grainy Super 16mm stock you can almost touch.

Jet-black comic set-pieces stud Kline’s script, but his actors’ commitment gives emotional truth to its parade of societal losers and malcontents. Zolghadri’s Robert is less mature or capable than he believes, thoughtless in his satirical drawings and life, innocent yet hurtful. Foolishly confident, he carries the unspoken wound of his supportive art teacher’s end, which Kline loads with absurdity and sudden violence, setting Funny Pages’ extreme, sufficiently humane tone at the start. It’s a small film about a small but meaningful world, with a fevered authenticity.

From this bedrock of delusional artistic struggle, Owen Kline carves a queasy slice of tragicomedy


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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