TV-MA. I can't think of anything visual that is offensive, but good golly, Zach Galifianakis can say some really uncomfortable things. That's what mostly the TV-MA is for. It's got language. It is pretty vulgar at times. It's not constantly filthy, but it does return to that well every time there's a conversation scene. It's pretty R, but I never really felt gross by the end of the day.
DIRECTOR: Scott Aukerman
It's directed by Scott Aukerman? Come on. That's amazing. I feel so weird writing a tome about this movie because it is just the Funny or Die skit expanded over the course of an hour and twenty-two minutes. I never really felt like I was watching a movie. In fact, that might explain how my wife and I actually sat down to watch this movie. It was really hard to really become engrossed in this film because the movie never really treats itself as a film. When you hear the idea for Between Two Ferns as a movie pitch, you have to wonder how that can really hold weight. I don't think that Zach Galifianakis is unaware of that. I think he's kind of telling a joke with this one. If there is one thing that is never really supposed to be a feature film, it's supposed to be a five minute series of skits. But that kind of throws me back to the model that Saturday Night Live set up...
We should all adore Wayne's World. I suppose Lorne Michaels is still trying to decrypt the formula for how a skit about a public access television show (appropriately paralleling the meta narrative of Between Two Ferns) could turn into two feature length movies. I'm a supporter of Wayne's World 2, despite the fact that it should probably never have been made. But Wayne's World kind of broke the rules for how sketch cinema could turn into feature film. I have theories. There's a perfect combination of talent that went into Wayne's World. I probably look mostly at Penelope Spheeris and her unique look at making movies. She was a music documentarian. She got the larger world of Wayne and Garth as opposed to being a sketch director. She didn't come from the world of comedy. Instead, she flung these two fanboys into the world of actual rock and roll and it worked really well. Add to that that Mike Meyers was a creative powerhouse and strong advocate for his character's development. Adding a sidekick like Dana Carvey provides a foil that doesn't depend on the tropey straightman. It's all really smart. But the SNL movies mostly don't work. I'm even a fan of A Night at the Roxbury, but I know that the movie isn't very good. Sketches have a hard time standing on their own two feet when it comes to long-form stories. They are different beasts. Looking at the short form sketch, the point isn't to have a story with a beginning, middle, and end. There are no actual character arcs. The point of a sketch is to provide a conceit and to allow it to live as long as it gets laughs. While not absolutely true, especially when it comes to political sketches, the ultimate goal is to get laughs to bolster ratings and to continue doing the show. Look, I adore sketch comedy. I still quote Upright Citizens Brigade sketches, which makes me a cool guy. But I also understand that it is hard to make one thing into another thing.
Which is what kind of makes Between Two Ferns: The Movie both brilliant and stupid at the same time. I stress, I think that Zach Galifianakis knows what he's doing. He knows that Between Two Ferns should never be a movie and that's exactly why he's doing it. It's the embracing of an absurd concept. While It's Pat: The Movie was an attempt to capitalize on a humorous concept, Between Two Ferns is daring the audience to comment on it. The fact that I'm writing X-number of words on this is the joke. I am the punchline. Is it good? Sure. It's better than it is supposed to be. But honestly, a lot of the movie is an excuse to get a lot of funny people together to do Between Two Ferns skits over and over. If I tie it back to Wayne's World as the model for how this could work, Wayne and Garth only do the "Wayne's World" meta TV show a handful of times. But Between Two Ferns does the public access show as its central conceit. If those sketches were available before the film came out, it honestly would read like a clip show episode with a loose joining narrative. The narrative is so simple that it is actually confusing. Will Ferrell, again a meta-commentary on himself, tells Zach that he has to do so many episodes of Between Two Ferns on the road so he can earn a late-night spot. I think we're all aware that it doesn't make much sense. I think that Will Ferrell is aware of that himself. But that's what Ferrell's brand of humor has always been and it is why I often appreciate his jokes. He shrouds himself in the absurd and over-the-top. It exists because the movie told us that it existed. That's really about it.
I just mentioned that I adore Will Ferrell. I do. But this role is really one of his weaker roles. I don't know how much he's involved in the whole process. This was a Scott Aukerman joint and it reads as such at times. I know that Zach Galifianakis is the one with his hand on the wheel, but Aukerman's absurd humor starts often in the mundane before it spirals out of control. I love when actors comment on themselves and play fictional versions of themselves. That's the premise of Between Two Ferns and it is why I laugh so hard at the sketches. But Will Ferrell's commentary on himself doesn't really work. It really is jarring compared to everyone else's fake versions of themselves. This is the End probably did it best with its portrayal of actors playing themselves. I think that's what everyone in the film is doing. Galifianakis probably has it best in this film because he's been crafting his argumentative babyman for a long time now, pre-Hangover. People probably think that he is that person at this point because we've seen him break the fourth wall so often for different characters and interviews. But it is everyone else who really shines. I adore Jon Hamm. I love the fact that he's down for comedy more than he is for drama because he is delightful. His scene really explains how subtle the fictionalized version of a character has to be. He's actually probably one of the ones actually hamming (pun intended) it up more than the other actors. Matthew McConaughey brilliantly approaches the whole thing like a drama, which is really the point of Between Two Ferns. We'd like to imagine that these actors are really being insulted by Zach Galifianakis. This all brings me back to Will Ferrell. Ferrell is playing his part for comedy. I know, the movie kind of needs it. It needed to have Ferrell as an over-the-top villain. But is performance almost doesn't match the tone of the entire piece. I think there is a way for Ferrell to play the bad guy for this loose narrative that might actually be funnier. Having him as a down-to-earth guy who honestly just wants more clicks and doesn't care for Galifianakis's nonsense might actually make a bit of sense when looking at the greater film. But having this oil tycoon style version of Ferrell just doesn't fit with the film. (Shoot, I Googled "Will Ferrell Between Two Ferns" and just fell down a YouTube hole. What was I talking about?)
This is kind of a sad thing. I will say that Between Two Ferns: The Movie is definitely worth watching as a low-stakes series of decent guffaws, but the whole thing doesn't really work. Go into it with that attitude. It doesn't work as a movie. It works as a set of jokes put into succession. The best part, and this doesn't speak highly of the film, is the credits out-takes. I died at those.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.