Elara Pictures, 2022
📷 : Used with permission, Izzy Aghahowa (izzyaghahowa.co.uk)
Youthful, lighthearted, and fun movies and TV shows
It’s no secret what a dizzying time the end of high school can be. Given how hard it is for full-grown adults to make life-changing decisions, picking a place to move on to for the next four years (if anywhere) brings a lot of pressure to teenagers. The ability to figure out what will drive you for the rest of your life can be overwhelming when you can barely drive yourself, but some adolescents know earlier than others. When you discover your passion ahead of schedule, the choices you make can perplex those around you. Such was the case for the protagonist of Funny Pages, a Cannes Award-nominated indie project all about self-discovery.
Funny Pages follows Robert (Daniel Zolghadri, Eighth Grade), a teenage comic strip artist grieving the unexpected death of his mentor. After he is caught breaking and entering to recover his drawings and then let off easy, Robert decides that he does not want to keep living under the protective arm of his parents, Jennifer (Maria Dizzia, True Story) and Lewis (Josh Pais, Joker). He saves up to buy a broken-down jalopy from his comic book store manager and rents a room in Trenton, New Jersey. After finding a job as a typist for the public defender that got him off, Robert runs into Wallace (Matthew Maher, Captain Marvel), a color separator for a comic that he once admired. He slowly realizes that one of his biggest influences, just like the independence he seeks, can turn out to be a huge letdown.
At times, this coming-of-age story appears to be in support of adolescents rejecting familial support, going out on a limb and finding their own way. After all, Robert experiences independence with some success. He acquires his own transportation, shelter, and job while meeting one of his biggest inspirations. However, he finds himself in uncomfortable and even inappropriate predicaments that don’t seem necessary. For instance, his living situation involves him sharing a space with undesirable roommates, no ventilation, and no view to the outside world. Similarly, the public defender that he works for puts him in direct contact with Wallace, who is in a severe state of self-loathing.
Robert’s struggles do lead to some creative material for his comics, but they put him at odds with the people who care about him the most. He repeatedly puts down his loyal best friend Miles (Miles Emanuel, Calidris), who has the same passion for comic strips that he does. Similarly, Robert is snotty to his parents, who give him space while trying to keep his best interests at heart. Rather than embrace the unconditional support that he receives, Robert bends over backwards to appease his troubled source of inspiration, despite Wallace’s reluctance to befriend him. While Robert’s talent is clear, his need to be rebellious compromises his decision-making.
Stylistically, writer/director Owen Kline shoots an abundance of close-ups, often highlighting the physical oddities of his main characters: acne, balding patterns, sweat stains, etc. The shots feel like a reference to what a reader would see in caricatures or comic strips. One could surmise the movie is attempting to show us life through the eyes of a comic artist, who hones in on such blemishes as their inspiration. As they would in a comic strip, the characters do not change their appearance; they simply exist in their imperfection. This element makes the story stand out from your typical mainstream flick that fine-tunes every main character’s visage through makeup, rigorous diets and exercise routines.
Being that Funny Pages is an independent film, its theme of anti-vanity fits well. Though the audience may be occasionally grossed out by the lewd nature of the comics or unkemptness of the characters, it delivers a quirky story about going through a confusing phase of life and venturing off the beaten path.