Funny Pages Review: Comedy and cartoons make for a strong coming of age story
Owen Kline’s directorial debut, Funny Pages, is a unique coming of age story that’s a slice of niche nerd culture with a good comedic bite and a strong lead performance.
The film follows Robert (Daniel Zolghadri), a high school student who aspires to be a cartoonist, as he traverses his own independence and finds inspiration for his craft after his art teacher suddenly dies. Funny Page’s most compelling element is undoubtedly its visual homage to cartoon and comic art as it plays a pivotal role in establishing Robert and his world. Whether its sexually provocative or simply fun, Funny Page’s art style and general aesthetic are incredibly eye-catching and make you feel like you’re walking through a unique side of nerdom that’s rarely seen. It’s a visual style that’s rarely appreciated like this and is what makes Funny Pages equally nostalgic and refreshing.
Funny Page’s world of cartoonists and artist culture is more than skin deep though as Robert’s personal perspective and story add rich depth and interesting conversations about art. At his core, Robert is a standard coming of age character who thinks he’s more mature and know more than he actually does. Thus, he’s prone to making mistakes and creating obstacles for himself driven by his continually inflated ego. Zolghadri plays it all well with him showing Robert as an awkward and desperate person looking for success and recognition. However, there is a struggling artist story in the same vein as Whiplash and Cam that comes through his attempts to find inspiration and approval for his craft.
The film really does a great job utilizing Robert’s perspective of being young, inexperienced, and desperate to be treated with respect to craft this engaging personal narrative about art. While the film lets its characters be nerdy about cartoons and really talk about the personal meaning of their art, it’ll rarely lose viewers because of how it themes are so relatable and easy to grasp. The film easily provides some meaningful and intriguing conversations about the personal value of art with how Robert is constantly caught in a struggle with his own insecurities. His own desperation for approval from “meaningful” people leads him down rough paths and the film does a nice job challenging this perspective and those that groom Robert’s ego rather than give him real perspective.
Frankly, these moments where Robert’s clearly making desperate choices or trying to prove things that he doesn’t have to are some of the best of the entire film. Zolghadri’s dramatic chops make this internal struggle within Robert subtle, but impactful. Kline does a great job creating real consequences to Robert’s actions that hit hard and can even lead to thrilling sequences, especially in the finale. Also, you really come away with a deeper perspective on personal accomplishment and Robert’s story is undoubtedly a cautionary tale. The film’s ending is definitely a little abrupt and comes too soon, but Funny Pages’ themes around art and artistic struggle excellently come through and leave a noticeable impact.
Best of all is that unlike similar struggling artist stories, Funny Pages trades out horror or intense drama for consistently strong coming of age comedy. Robert’s cravings for independence and respect not only put him at odds with his parents, but also see him make some brash choices that lead to some hilarious results. His living situation only gets funnier with time, especially for someone like me who lives in New Jersey, and it’s both sad and kind of hilarious to see how Robert’s desires for inspiration and vindication lead him to ruin. Kline’s direction thrives in this style of cringe comedy with how he’s able to use the film’s atmosphere and aesthetic to create some unique laughs and it’s easily what makes Funny Pages live up to its name.
Coming of age stories are becoming an overloaded genre, but Funny Pages manages to leave a unique mark through its central story of artistic desire led by a fantastic performance from Zolghadri and a distinct visual homage to cartoon culture that’s incredibly pleasing to eyes.