Funny Pages review, Cannes: Safdie-produced A24 comedy “appears to have a direct line to the nervous energy of early ’70s cinema”

A budding young cartoonist’s picaresque rite of passage forms an entertaining foundation for this lo-fi feature debut from New York director Owen Kline, a protégé of the Safdie brothers who appears to have a direct line to the scrappy, nervous energy of early ’70s cinema. Playing in the Directors’ Fortnight section at Cannes, this A24 production sometimes seems as rough and unfinished as one of its adolescent hero’s work-in-progress comic strips. Like the oddball outcast he chooses to hang out with, though, it has an unpredictability that keeps you on your toes and a bitter pathos that gives every laugh (of which there are many) a note of tragic despair.

Robert (Daniel Zolghadri) is a 17-year-old high school student from Princeton who idolizes the underground comics of Robert Crumb, Harvey Pekar and their ilk and detests the cosy, comfortable suburbia in which he was raised. Inspired by his art teacher Mr Katano (Pulitzer-winning playwright Stephen Adly Gurgis) to “always subvert” expectations, he impulsively decides to drop out of school and move to the nearby city of Trenton, apparently in the belief that the life of a creative demands one of penury, squalor and abject discomfort.

He certainly finds them in the sweltering basement apartment he rents a couch in from portly shut-in Barry (Michael Townsend Wright), a grotesque creation that could have sprung from the sketches of one of his artistic heroes. Having found himself a job taking notes in the office of kindly public defender Cheryl (Marcia Debonis), Robert promptly encounters another oddball in combustible loner Wallace (Matthew Maher), a troubled soul whose former job as a comic book colour separator convinces his younger counterpart he is ideal mentor material.

“You are truly delicious!” says Cheryl to her new trainee, and it is easy to feel the same about Kline’s engagingly offbeat comedy. There’s a random, spontaneous feel to what the director has called a “regressive” coming-of-age story, while the grainy, Super 16mm photography has a tactile, handmade quality akin to a film school short.

Kline has cited the likes of Withnail And I and Prick Up Your Ears as inspirations, and there’s certainly some of their argumentative feistiness in the relationship that builds between its mismatched main players. And while the ending feels a little abrupt after the sustained farcical set-piece that precedes it (a fiery family Christmas in Princeton featuring Wallace as the Grinch), it at least leaves us feeling that its young hero, like Philip Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman, John Updike’s Rabbit and Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel, has more than one chapter in him.

Funny Pages does not currently have a UK or US release date. Stick with Total Film for all the latest coverage from Cannes 2022 – check out our review of David Bowie documentary Moonage Daydream, through that link.

The Verdict


4 out of 5

Funny Pages review, Cannes: Safdie-produced A24 comedy “appears to have a direct line to the nervous energy of early ’70s cinema”

Kevin Kline’s director son suggests that talent is hereditary with this witty and poignant look at an artist in embryo.

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