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Funny Pages ★★★★



Director: Owen Kline

Cast: Daniel Zolghadri, Matthew Maher, Miles Emanuel, Josh Pais, Maria Dizzia

Release: September 16, 2022 (UK)

In 2005 Owen Kline starred in one of the finest American indies to have existed in Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale. Since then, he has been honing his craft as a filmmaker, making quite a few shorts, but now, at 30, he has made his feature directorial debut and even got the Safdie Brothers to produce it. Funny Pages graced the Croissette at Director’s Fortnight with much praise and adoration for Kline’s unique vision and style.

The film follows Robert (Daniel Zolghadri), a 17-year-old aspiring cartoonist from a respectable middle-class family in the Ivy-league town of Princeton, whose obsession with comics finds him relocating to a scuzzy apartment in Trenton, New Jersey and dropping out of high school to devote himself to his art. He splits his time between jobs at the local comic bookstore, where he and his equally cartoon-obsessed friend Miles also hang out, and at a public defender’s office. He encounters Wallace (Matthew Maher), a former colour separator for the legendary Image Comics. Blind to the man’s near-psychotic personality – he displays barely hidden incel qualities – Robert becomes determined to learn as much as he can from him.   

Funny Pages is aesthetically an obscure piece, but it’s endearing and goofy as Kline explores naive optimism. It feels as if Terry Zwigoff, R. Crumb and Jim Hoskin came together to make a film but what Kline adds is more of a soulful touch. In many ways, it’s a soul-breaking account of what it is to be an artist, and the strong message of you don’t need to be famous to love your work. Robert’s unconventional odyssey to find his voice takes him to some grotty places, but the people he comes across stimulate his creativity. One issue we all go through in life is comparing ourselves to others who may be succeeding in our fields, but Richard is more fixated on how they can fail or, ultimately, what made them lose their love for their craft.

What instantly grabs you with Kline’s approach is the essence of Harmony Korine’s Gummo. The grain from each frame, the grotty nature of houses and Richard’s charisma and observations of the world. Kline shows a fresh perspective within cinema and expresses himself so vividly. Each shot builds a fascinating world, and the tight framing gazes into each character’s soul. We will never understand each other fully, but Kline’s expressionist approach gives you time to understand these characters. The Safdie effect enhances the experience of using professional and non-professional actors in Funny Pages. It adds much more depth and originality to the scenes as this world is more lively and original for Kline’s story.

Based on Kline’s taste in cinema, he brings a lot of dark humour to the table that fits so well in this world. Sometimes, you shouldn’t laugh, but the writing and line execution are good. There are so many layers to Funny Pages, which manifests as a profoundly whimsical experience. A lot of praise must go to Daniel Zolghadri’s leading performance. There is so much to his character in silence, and his facial expressions are on-point. His understanding of Kline’s screenplay transfers to the screen with great gravitas. Ultimately Funny Pages is one of the finest debuts of the year.

Lover of all things indie and foreign language. Can be found rambling on YouTube at times!

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