Funny Pages: Review
Funny Pages Synopsis: Teenage cartoonist Robert (Daniel Zolghardi) rejects the comforts of his suburban life and leaves home, finding an unwilling teacher and unwitting friend in Wallace, a former low-level comic artist.
Following the death of his mentor, know-it-all teenage cartoon artist Robert embarks on a quest toward adulthood in Funny Pages. The trials and tribulations embedded within coming-of-age narratives often inspire a sense of nostalgic reverence from viewers. At its best, the genre showcases the timeless adolescent hurdles standing in the way of self-actualization through a balance of warmth and genuine sentiments.
In the hands of first-time writer/director Owen Kline, Funny Pages traverses down a decidedly more perverse path. Kline and his creative company cultivate a compelling and refreshingly amoral odyssey of a self-assured teenager coming face-to-face with the uncompromising world around him.
Funny Pages establishes a distinctive voice from jump street. Our protagonist Robert introduces himself as a harsh amalgamation of teenagers' worst qualities, constantly berating family and friends under the guise of his self-absorbed sense of importance. His one true passion in life lies in his comic book creations, although his artistic endeavors align closer to indecent snuff content compared to more soulful material.
As Robert ditches school and moves into a musky apartment seated in a slum underbelly, Funny Pages transforms into a decidedly vulgar experience. Robert thinks he knows everything there is to know about the world around him as he discovers a new mentor in the form of a comic artist with a questionable past. In reality, his expedition toward independence elicits an eye-opening discovery.
Similar to the work of his producing partners (Uncut Gems directors Ben and Josh Saffide), Kline entrenches Robert's journey within the undernourished crevices of a world riddled with seediness. Whether it's the sweat-induced hell of his cramped apartment space or the run-down comic store that Robert frequently visits, Kline's guerilla realism filmmaking style conveys an atmospheric unease. Each scene has a rugged unwieldiness as kinetic camera movements and claustrophobic framing choices enhance the material's grunge sensibility. Kline and his assured technical craft deserve significant praise for making a makeshift low-budget a beneficial asset to the film.
Tonally, Funny Pages is a fascinating feature to unpack. The material is unabashedly dour in its worldview, but its executed in a manner that can feel surprisingly humorous in its unhinged depravity. A series of juvenile pratfalls, including the shocking spectacle that is the film's final act, often left me floored one minute before letting out a nervous chuckle the next.
Kline captures both tones with a raw spontaneity that always feels grounded in genuine insights. At the heart of Funny Pages' occasionally off-the-wall moments, the filmmaker slices piercing sentiments about a conceited yet naive dreamer who uncovers painful truths about his underdeveloped worldview.
None of Kline's intriguing elements would work without star Daniel Zolghardi. The young actor often becomes a distasteful menace as Robert, sniping biting one-liners at all who oppose him while wearing endless misery across his face. Yet, in a character that could've easily felt like a phony caricature in the wrong hands, Zolghardi's nuanced delivery provides essential balance. He imbues empathy into his performance by understanding what lies beneath the facade of Robert's attitude - a wide-eyed teenager desperately searching for a sense of self-discovery.
Funny Pages strikes a fearlessly abrasive subversion of the coming-of-age formula. While wholly untraditional, the film approaches adolescent milieu with an unfiltered honesty that few coming-of-age features can match.
Funny Pages is available on VOD platforms.